The Hog's Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts is my 21st. book for Bev's Calendar of Crime reading challenge, qualifying under the October category of 'Primary action takes place in this month'.
Dr. Earle and his wife live in a beautiful house called St. Kilda in a lovely part of the county of Surrey, not far from Godalming. A school-friend of Jean Earle's, Ursula Stone, comes to stay and get's the feeling that all is not well with the couple. This is confirmed when Dr. Earle suddenly disappears. One minute he's comfortably ensconced in the sitting room reading the paper, the next - gone. Not one person in the house has any idea what could have happened.
Inspector French is called in and is faced with one of the most baffling cases of his career. Everyone who might know anything is questioned but to no avail, it seems Dr. Earle has disappeared off the face of the Earth. Eventually it emerges that there may have been a woman involved and that she has disappeared too. Have they run off together? Improbable because the doctor apparently went off in his slippers with no coat. Plus, people who know the woman, a nurse, are insistant that she was not that kind of woman. So where are they?
Not all books are ones that you want to keep picking up to read... sometimes, even though you do want to finish the book, it can seem like a bit of a chore. This was not one of those cases. Every time I had to put it down I was reluctant to do so and couldn't wait to get back to it. It's beautifully written and such a mystery. Very convoluted, full of dead ends and seemingly unsolvable conundrums. There was one person I had my eye on and that proved to be correct but there was a lot more to it in the end and what I'd thought wasn't even the half of it. Very clever indeed.
Freeman Wills Croft went on to write The 12.30 to Croydon after this, and later Antidote to Venom both written mostly from the perpetrator's point of view. You can see how he got to that stage from The Hog's Back Mystery as he shows great interest in the motivations of people who commit murder, especially the mess they get themselves into before murder becomes what they think is their only option. It's all fascinating. French is such a good foil to these people as he goes methodically about his business... this is very much a police procedural story and in places does drag a little with a bit too much repitition, but that didn't bother me as I tried to figure out what had happened. Plus the plot is so complex you do need reminding what's happened from time to time.
The other thing I loved about this book was its setting. We stayed in Godalming 5 weeks ago so I could picture The Hog's Back, ie. The North Downs, very easily. It's exactly as gorgeous as the author says and I could so easily picture myself happily cycling the tree lined lanes like Inspector French. These days it might not be so pleasant with all the traffic but back then it must've been idyllic.
I must read more by Freeman Wills Croft. I like the way he wrote, I like the fact that Inspector French is a very ordinary sort of chap who isn't a rebel or an alcoholic, he just wants to do the best job he can. I'm hoping the BLCC will bring out more of his books, if not I'll have to try and track some down via Amazon Marketplace or somesuch.