On a cold night in the middle of November at the offices of diamond merchants Duke and Peabody, the body of head clerk Mr. Charles Gething is discovered, dead on the floor in front of the open safe. Missing are £33,000 worth of diamonds plus about £1,000 in bank notes. Inspector Joseph French expects the case to be fairly straightforward and easy to solve, unaware that he is up against a criminal who must conceal the truth, no matter what the cost.
I was eager to read this first case and learn more of French’s origins. What I found was an entertaining introduction to the police procedural in general, the investigative technique of Inspector French in particular, and it’s a pretty good mystery to boot.
We get our first description of French as “a stout man in tweeds, rather under middle height, with a clean shaven, good-humoured face and dark blue eyes,” and learn over the course of the story that he is a decent and rather kindly man. Even the most rabid of fans will admit that he certainly isn’t the most exciting detective, but he is a keen and tireless worker, deeply affected by a case, whether it be depressed when a lead dries up, or exultant that his efforts bring about a result.
The investigation in methodical and systematic. There are some likely suspects and a number of clues, yet each time French thinks he is getting closer the true culprit stays one step ahead of him, leading French through the Swiss Alps, on to Barcelona, Amsterdam, and finally on to a ship bound for Brazil. Crofts takes full advantage of French’s journeys, giving the reader a lively description of the scenery along the way.
Crofts is also very good with understated humor. I smiled through the scenes in which French vents to his wife Emily about difficulties with the case. Poor Emily must stop whatever it is she is doing to listen as he recounts the evidence and bemoans his lack of progress. Then when she leads him to see what he has missed, it was of course his idea all along!
Crofts as usual delivers a carefully crafted, detailed plot and in the end treats the reader to masterful twist that even French didn’t see coming. Now, if your looking for a dazzling detective, you won’t find that here. French doesn’t “leap to his conclusions by brilliant intuition.” In short, he’s a regular guy, he gets things wrong, and keeps trying until he gets it right.
Be he “humdrum” or not, I enjoyed meeting Inspector French for the “first” time. My stockpile of Crofts is slowly growing taller and I’m looking forward to more French cases in the future.
My Judgment – 4/5
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – Vintage Themes 2014 – Bingo: Read one book with a man in the title
Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge – June #8: Month-related item on cover: a tie