When the battered body of Sir William Ponson is found in the Cranshaw River it is assumed to be an accident. Apparently trying to cross in a small boat, he lost control of his oars and drifted too close to the Cranshaw Falls, was carried over and dashed on the rocks below. But later evidence points to murder. And there are those who would benefit from Sir William’s death. His son Austin, who will receive the bulk of the estate, never got on well with his father, and his nephew Cosgrove is definitely in need of funds. Inspector Tanner of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. But while suspicion falls on both men, as they each have seemingly unbreakable alibis, their involvement appears impossible. Only a meticulous investigation by Tanner will get to the truth.
If you do not derive joy from reading a book which follows an investigation that is exclusively about the gathering and sifting of evidence…in exhaustive detail…you can stop reading right now. Walk away, for that is what The Ponson Case is all about. But if like me, you are endlessly entertained by the process of detection, then read on.
So, now that that is out of the way…
As is the case in many of Crofts stories, this one hinges on the strength of seemingly unshakable alibis. Knowing that someone is lying, Tanner doggedly follows the clues, uncovering evidence little by little, weighing every clue and statement, and then starting from scratch until he finds the answer. He of course uncovers several sets of footprints and goes over many train (and boat) schedules. And there is the addition of a certain type of shoe that could only have been bought in a West End branch of a store.
To test the soundness of his new supposition, he continued next morning the inquiry he had been making on the previous afternoon—interrogating the shoe shop salesman for information as to Austin’s purchases. He began with the tenth branch, as if he had discovered nothing at the ninth. But here his efforts met with no success. Nor did they at the eleventh, twelfth, or thirteenth. But at the fourteen, with a feeling of pleased triumph, he discovered what he had hoped to find.”
I know, it sounds as if I’m making fun of it, and maybe I am…a little. But this is Crofts, in all his glorious meticulous detail, which results in the creation of a protagonist with tenacity and conviction, and I love it!
Tanner may have seemed a bit stiff at the beginning, but that perception quickly changes and Crofts reveals he has few qualms with his protagonists using devious methods to obtain information. Tanner is not above a little deceit, including multiple calling cards with false identities always at hand, to gain access to a suspect’s rooms and even remove potential evidence. I’ve not read a ton of Crofts, but his stand-alone detectives seem more willing to be a little more underhanded than Inspector French.
The only failing is that the mystery seems limited by such a small pool of suspects. But Crofts still introduces a small twist or two, keeping the reader puzzling it out until the very end.
If you are looking to read very well crafted, detective tales of the police procedural variety, then Freeman Wills Croft is the writer for you. I really do enjoy his work and highly recommend this one.
My Judgment – 4.25/5
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