Inspector French and the Starvel Hollow Tragedy by Freeman Wills Crofts (1927)

A deadly fire swept through Starvel House, resulting in the death of its owner, the elderly Simon Averill, as well as his two servants. The inquest called it a terrible accident. But then a single twenty-pound note turns up, only it should have been burnt, along with the rest of the over thirty-thousand pounds Averill kept hoarded in the safe at Starvel. Inspector French was sent in to investigate and soon confirms that the fire was set intentionally, to cover up a robbery—and triple murder. 

Crofts’ plot builds from a case with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, and French actually believing it to be a waste of his time. But French being French, one small item out of place sends him looking for an explanation. For you see, everything must be followed up, until it leads him somewhere, or he is convinced that it’s a dead end. Boring you say? No way! Don’t be fooled by the understated methods, because the beauty of Crofts’ writing is that he is able to create a complex mystery, and make it appear deceptively simple. 

Readers of Crofts know very well that French will theorize throughout the investigation, look at the theory from every angle and then dig away. The investigation is never adjusted to fit the theory, and so we see French’s disappointment, and often his frustration, when he is proven wrong. Yet even when wrong French will take what he has found and thread it into a new theory, and a new lead. And the genius here is Crofts’ ability to sustain the readers interest by immersing them in the investigation. And, French doesn’t just plod along from one lead to the next, but leads us through a number of surprising developments nicely planted along the way. And it all dovetails perfectly in the end.

Best of all, Crofts did very well with his red herrings and diversions. The true nature of the crime and the culprit remained hidden throughout, and I was just as surprised as French when he glommed onto the murderer’s identity.  

Something that struck me here regarding the character of French. Remember at the very beginning, when French believed he was being sent on a wild goose chase, only to be proven wrong? Because French usually does the job without question you don’t think of him as petty, but it is one of the character’s weaknesses. And here, Crofts uses this fallibility, more than once, as definite plot points to propel the story. I don’t know—just thought it was interesting.

Another excellent mystery and entertaining read from Crofts! 

My Rating – 4.75/5

Prior Judgments – JJ @ The Invisible Event, Aidan @ Mysteries Ahoy, Nick Fuller @ The Grandest Game in the World, Martin Edwards @ Do You Write Under Your Own Name

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2014 Bingo—Read one book with a place in the title

3 thoughts on “Inspector French and the Starvel Hollow Tragedy by Freeman Wills Crofts (1927)

  1. I’m glad you got so much out of this, I think it’s among the best of the Early French period. Given that Crofts’ plot twists aren’t always the, er, most unexpected, there’s one development in particular that I was delighted to be surprised by, and so much of what supports it is very intelligently handled. Great stuff, with never a dull moment.

  2. This was my first FWC novel and i remember enjoying it more than I expected For an author accused of being humdrum I am hard pressed to think of another 20.20s author whose detective had so many attempts to kill him and such an ends justifies the means approach to gathering evidence.

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