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Mystery in the Channel (British Library Crime Classics) - Freeman Wills Crofts

Two bigwigs from a company rumored about to go bankrupt and leave thousands of shareholders in financial ruin turn up dead, on a yacht. In the English channel. Inspector French of Scotland Yard gets called in to sort out the details, and hopefully make an arrest of person or persons who, really, may have rid the world of a couple of skunks. Still, murder is murder--and although it is hard to fathom in the midst of mounting evidence of corporate skullduggery leading to craven "grab what's left and sail-ass outta here" attitude gone wrong, maybe just some ticked-off barber who didn't get tipped enough and is good with a rowboat is the culprit.

 

No, there's no killer barber--but one is never quite safe, in a masterfully done whodunit, to assume motive. As Inspector French follows all the trails around ports of call along the Channel, and beyond--in England and France--it all seems to relate to a missing million and a half pounds that were stealthily siphoned from a dying Securities firm that would see creditors after eight million pounds soon to be labeled as Funds Not Available/Come Calling All You Want, It's All Gone.

 

Distances and travel times come into the mix, but not in any kind of confusing way. After five books' worth of this amazing author in one year, I would say that whatever scientific nuts and bolts Crofts brings to a book, it's always clear and fair, and part of reader embarrassment later on when it comes to failing to see the obvious, just as much as missing a character contradicting himself and getting away with it, or failing to detect what those notches left in the carpet really mean, etc. etc. Well, this reader's embarrassment. You may do better. When it comes to Crofts, I'm good at vaguely floating around some kind of half-brained, half-baked, half-assed solution, and not spotting anything that gets it locked down. I'm very good at tremulously intuiting a strong suspect and being right often enough to feel like I have Spidey Sense, or am figuring out clues on a subliminal level.

 

But to really be able to say I've solved a Mystery would mean I'm not hitting my head and thinking "Ugh, how did I not see that?! I, I, I, I....I....I...I...I-yiye-yiye, yiye-Yiiiyyyyyyyyyyye!". It would mean that the detective does not lay out a scenario containing twenty points, and ten clues buttressing those points, that comes as total, and fully fleshed-out frickin' News To Me. The solution here--the devil hidden behind details--was, uh, news to me. 

 

As seems to be usual with this author, lots of little revelations crop up along the way that fill in holes, but often make the overall picture even more bizarre, or sometimes even completely destroy French's main theory. The trick for the reader can often be to see how something revealed very far into the book should be used to cast a different light on something supposedly established, and rock-solid, earlier in the book. Many writers use this sort of tactic, but Freeman Wills Crofts plays that game very well.

 

I may never look to Crofts for moody flashbacks, hard deep looks at the psychology of a scarred and complex criminal, or a detective who actually has a life. But, if these books of his are really supposed to be part of the "humdrum" whodunit tradition, then this take on "humdrum" has beautiful precision humming, and the occasional bout of loud and shocking drumming. I would put a bow on all this by saying this particular entry has a great, suspenseful, danger-ridden final confrontation that rivals any great scene in a Die Hard movie (one of the ones where he has hair, of course). I cheered the solution to "death of hero seems kinda unavoidable at this point".

 

When the second book I read by Crofts was merely enh/above-average, I wondered if that would be the norm. But I foraged on through French's territory, and I'm glad. It would seem Clever and Entertaining are the norm, not Average.