Freeman Wills Crofts has enjoyed quite a revival during the last couple of years. The British Library has reissued several of his best novels, and Harper Collins have reprinted others, both in paperback editions and in some cases as hardbacks under the Detective Story Club imprint. The latter include his third book, The Pit-Prop Syndicate, which first appeared in 1922.
Crofts was still learning his trade at that time. Inspector French was yet to be created, and he'd followed up the success of The Cask with the slightly disappointing The Ponson Case. Here, he experiments rather interestingly. The first half of the book follows an amateur investigation into a suspected criminal conspiracy. The second half sees the professionals take over, in the form of Inspector Willis. It's a tricky blend, but I found it appealing.
Seymour Merriman (great name!) is cycling in France when he chances upon a strange puzzle. Why would a lorry change its number plate? He comes across a pit-prop exporting business (one of those enterprises that presumably died out long ago) and also a pretty girl. Back in England, he tells a friend, and they decide to return to France to investigate (and Seymour also wants to get to know the pretty girl better). The plot thickens from there.
This is a classic Crofts story, meticulously planned and written. And I can't think of many Golden Age stories featuring Goole and Hull, but this is one! In the second half of the book, the investigation dragged a bit, and I found some of the detail a bit dull, much like Seymour's romance. All the same, it's an enjoyable story, and there's also a bonus in the dust jacket artwork, as well as the inclusion of an intro by John Curran and a little-known short story with a railway setting, "Danger in Shroude Valley".