Friday, 15 February 2013

Forgotten Book - The 12.30 From Croydon

Long before Agatha Christie's 4.50 from Paddington, we had Freeman Wills Crofts' 12.30 from Croydon - the former title referred to a train journey, the latter to a flight in the first chapter, which ends with the discovery that an elderly passenger has died. Crofts' book is my choice today as a Forgotten Book, and it's an interesting example of the "inverted" crime story, in the style of R. Austin Freeman, who actually gets a mention in the text.

The bulk of the narrative recounts Charles Swinburn's path towards murdering his uncle. His motive is money. The book was published in 1934, and the world slump is affecting Charles' business. He also needs money to attract the woman he loves, Una Mellor. The business pressures are described more convincingly than the romance - Una is so horribly mercenary that it's difficult to see her appeal.

Charles shows a good deal of ingenuity in carryiing out his crime, but sadly for him, Inspector French is called in to investigate. A blackmailer's demands prompt Charles to contemplate a second crime, and I thought the story was going to end with a twist in the manner of a Francis Iles book. But I was mistaken. In fact, after a lengthy trial, the ending is swift and something of an anti-climax.

Crofts does, however, offer us a couple of closing chapters in which French explains how he conducted his investigation, and he tidies up the loose ends in his usual efficient way. This is an enjoyable story, even if Charles' rapid shifts from complacency to panic become tediously repetitive. Here Crofts was stepping out of his comfort zone, and he did so to good effect. Not surprisingly, he soon returned to the "inverted" form of story. Croydon Airport, by the way, finally closed in 1959.

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