(Warning: probable spoilers)
Have just finished reading ‘Inspector French and the Box Office Murders” by Freeman Wills Croft, a book which was mostly enjoyable but forgettable. Croft is a writer who has a good way with intriguing puzzles but is not especially great with characters (although, in ‘ Antidote to Venom’ he has a surprisingly good go at inner torment, as well as a neat inverted plot: if you don’t much like Freeman Wills Croft, you might still enjoy that one).
At the beginning of the story a young box office employee, named Thurza Darke (by parents who wanted a film star or possibly a witch) tells her story of entanglement through gambling into further nefarious deeds. She reveals that a friend of hers, who also worked in a box office, has died: killed, she is certain, by the same man with creepy eyes, and creepier purple sickle scar, with whom she is involved.
“Well,” said French, “there’s one thing certain and that is that you’ve done a wise thing by coming here and telling your story.”
This, as will probably be apparent, is a large and odiferous lie.
Having been convinced of the seriousness of the danger Miss Darke is in, French tells her to get even more deeply involved ( “Please remember you have nothing to fear.”) and promptly lets her go, unshadowed, with a vague plan to show up, without backup, at her meeting with the wolves tomorrow.
Naturally, when she next appears, Thurza is considerably more dead than previously.
The plot then continues, with Inspector French doggedly tracking down clues, consulting with his wife and performing a few criminal acts in the name of justice ( although: “We may do our best to cook evidence,” French said with the twinkle in his eye showing more clearly than usual, “but I draw the line at inventing it if it’s not there.)
In the course of events, another young woman, Molly Moran, is coerced into explaining her slightly unlawful doings to the Inspector (“Now the question is: are you going to be wise and confide in me?” – to which the answer is, no and yes.)
Having obtained her assistance and compromised her horribly, French once again lets his trusting accomplice go without any back up whatsoever, despite being aware of how risky it was for them to have been seen together.
Naturally, Molly is immediately apprehended by the villains.
After this, the plot mostly unthickens and we go on to a thrillingish climax. I did rather enjoy the way that the damsel in distress got herself out of distress; not to mention a couple of other people as well.
There was much technical detail in this book, about drains, tides and coin composition for example, but what I mainly learned from this book was: when embroiled with rotters and murderers, do not trust Inspector French. Even if he doesn’t actually get you killed, your case will probably be thrown out on the grounds of exceedingly dubious evidence gathering.
But he will be rather polite.