The Groote Park Murder by Freeman Wills Crofts (1923)

When a man’s mutilated body is found in a railway tunnel in Middeldorp South Africa, it is assumed to be an unfortunate accident, or possibly suicide. Identified as Albert Smith, his movements prior to death are traced to a shed in Groote Park where Inspector Vandam uncovers evidence that points to murder. Vandam’s investigation results in the arrest of Stewart Crawley, a trial, and an acquittal. Then when everyone, including his fiancé Marion Hope, turn their backs on him, with nowhere to turn, Crawley vanishes from town.

Events then shift to Scotland two years later. Crawley’s chance encounter with Marion rekindles their relationship. And then, a former acquaintance from Middeldorp claims to have information that may prove his innocence. On the brink of discovering new evidence, Crawley is attacked and left for dead, in much the same way as Albert Smith had been. 

Okay…there’s much too much that goes on from here for me to continue without spoilers. Just know that this is a story of two separate investigations, separated by years and miles, but tied together by Smith and Crawley. And it’s all tied together by Crofts style of writing and his extraordinarily detailed plots. Vandam, in South Africa, and Inspector Ross in Scotland, are meticulous in following leads, and eliminating suspects. And of course this would not be Crofts without timetables and false alibis. 

All that detail may seem useless and boring, but Crofts is very good at keeping you interested. I will admit that the first half, set in South Africa, after a very promising start, became a bit monotonous. It is all about gathering facts, and only the beginning and latter portions have any true action. But it is the second half which grabbed my attention. Once the story moves to Scotland, events occur in rapid succession. From Marion racing across Scotland to find Crawley, to Ross following a suspect like a bloodhound, it felt like one chase after another. And the end, with its unexpected twist, came as a complete surprise.

So yes, this is a book of two halves and you may feel a bit let down by the first half, but don’t give up on it too early! It may not be top level Crofts, but this book is well worth reading,

My Judgment – 3.75/5

Prior Rulings – JJ @ The Invisible Event Nick @ The Grandest Game in the World

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – Vintage Mystery Challenge 2013 – Scattergories – #7 World Traveler: one mystery set in any country except the US or Britain (South Africa)

Murder Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge – Crime scene: Park

Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge – February #9: Couple/romance/love triangle major role

7 thoughts on “The Groote Park Murder by Freeman Wills Crofts (1923)

    1. I know, you’re not all that keen on Crofts. He’s definitely not for everyone. I only gave it a lower rating because of the middle of Part I. I know…it did just plod along then. But for me it was worth it.

  1. I loved the unravelling of the murder scene in Groote Park here, but the South Africa half is a little airless on account of Crofts having clearly never been there — compare the stilted description of that locale with the breathless joy lavished on the Scottish high- and lowlands.

    It’s a good plot, if a little transparent, and contains a couple of superb revelations. A good indication of the sort of care that was to come from Crofts, I feel.

    1. The initial portion was as good as any of the Scotland portion. There was so much I found lacking in the Vandam investigation. It was merely filler to get to the good stuff 🤣.

      I’ve only read 6 Crofts up to now. But even at his most “humdrum” I’ve yet to find him boring.

      1. Arguably the most boring Crofts has gotten in the 10 or so I’ve read is in portions of The Pit-Prop Syndicate…but there’s so much detail in those sections, and so much to be deduced about the era in which the book was written, that I still found a great deal to be interested in. No, it’s not narratively compelling, but it’s wonderful for anyone with an interest in this sort of mystery written during the early 1920s — which I would assume to be a sizeable portion of the people who would read that book.

        The Crofts resurgence is a real joy because not only has it allowed me to get excited about him in the first place, but it’s enabling the spectre of his dullness to be laid to rest. No, he’s not for everyone — who is? But for intelligent construction and destruction of labyrinthine plots he’s hard to beat, and he’s not yet in my reading attmpted to hide a poor plot behind some sort of showy delivery. Honestly, I think he’s wonderful…but I think you might have guessed that already 🙂

      2. I’ll keep it in mind when I read Pit-Prop! I think one of the more interesting aspects of Crofts writing is that while many people find his detectives boring. Do they not notice that Crofts always has them, at some point, pushing the limits of a legal investigation? One various occasions I’ve seen them bull, lie, and bribe. It may not be the “third degree” or “knocking around” of American detectives, but it adds color.

      3. Well, Crofts has admitted that he had no idea what the proper procedure for police officers was — and among GAD authors he was hardly alone in that regard. So maybe it’s that he doesn’t have them deviate enough from the legality of their investigations…!

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