To celebrate Freeman Wills Crofts' publishing centenary, HarperCollins are reprinting half a dozen of his mysteries, and they include this novel, which dates from 1935. Its alternative title was The Crime at Nornes and its new title includes the name of Crofts' series detective, Inspector French. I was pleased to see the new edition, as it is one of Crofts' books that I've never got round to. And I'm equally pleased to report that it's a good one.
At the start of the story, we're introduced to the senior officers of a leading jewellery business, Nornes. They are in deep financial trouble, and Crofts shows his understanding of business life in the early pages. Although not exactly crackling with tension, they set the scene for what is to follow (although I thought it slightly odd that the character who is introduced in the opening lines of the book then fades completely from view). Before long, the firm's accountant is dead, and a vast haul of precious gems have been stolen from a safe. These two disasters supply the core mysteries: was the accountant killed, and if so by whom and how? And who stole the booty, and are the incidents connected?
Chief Inspector French comes on to the scene, and Crofts shifts his focus away from the misfortunes of the business, and on to the police inquiries. As usual, he charts the steps in the investigative process with such care and conviction that the rather pedestrian style of his storytelling doesn't really matter. If anything, it lends further verisimilitude to the story.
Forensic work proves to be crucial, and the technical aspects of the story are handled with Crofts' customary authority. There's a chase across the Channel at the end, but even this is treated unsensationally. Crofts wasn't a writer who set the pulse racing, but at his best - and this book is a good example of his work - he was able to keep his readers turning the page through the sheer relentlessness and dedication of French, a man intent on leaving no stone unturned in his quest for justice.