Thursday 28 June 2018

Forgotten Book - The Pit-Prop Syndicate

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". 


Fiona said...

Thanks Martin, I ordered this (and The Cask) for my Kindle immediately I read your blog! The reprint of The Hog's Back Mystery a few years ago was my introduction to Crofts (living most my life within sight or easy reach of the Hogs Back, how could I resist?!) and I am definitely a fan; I enjoy the gentle pace and marvel at his meticulous use of timetables to break alibis - being too lazy to work them out for myself. I was very pleased to receive The Groot Park Murder in my goody bag from Bodies in the Library, and look forward to reading many more of his books.

Martin Edwards said...

Groote Park is next on my own Crofts TBR list, Fiona, so me too!

David Morgan said...

I first came across The Pit Prop Syndicate in 1982, when we hired a cottage near Falmouth, which had a collection of old dusty paperbacks. I was utterly enthralled, and have since read every book of Freeman Wills Croft that I could find. I have also recommended it to many friends, and without exception they have had the same reaction as me. The cottage also had another of his books, the name of which I've forgotten. The only thing I remember in that story was that the detective had to travel down to Claygate in Surrey (which is where I live!) Can anyone enlighten me on the name of thos book?

David Morgan

Martin Edwards said...

David, Crofts lived in Guildford for many years, so Surrey settings feature a number of times in his work. An example is The Hog's Back Mystery, but there are others.