Thursday, July 26, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books: Sir John Macgill's Last Journey by Freeman Wills Crofts

A sense of impending disaster seemed to have fallen on all present. All remained silent. Watching impatiently while the excavation slowly deepened, French was irresistibly reminded of a similar scene in which he had taken part - on the lonely Yorkshire moors near the ruins of the sinister old house of Starvel. There he had been searching for treasure - and had found a body. Here ...?





I had wanted to read Freeman Wills Crofts since I read Peggy Ann's post on the author. To my delight, a  library I frequent, had a few books of his. I picked up Sir John Macgill's Last Journey because the publishing history showed it being republished a number of times in a pretty short span of time. Unfortunately the book didn't really live up to my expectations.

Major Malcolm Macgill receives a letter from his father, John Macgill,  stating that he'd be paying a visit to him at his home-town in Ireland. Malcolm waits for him expectantly but the old man doesn't turn up. Then the Major receives a call from his father from another town asking him to come and pick him up. Again the former draws a blank. Concerned about his father's disappearance, Malcolm consults the police. As the police search for Sir John, they discover his hat stained with blood. Fearing the worst, the Scotland Yard is called in to help the Irish Police. Crofts' hero Inspector French is naturally chosen for the task. French travels  frequently between Northern Ireland and England to solve this baffling mystery. As Crofts was a railway engineer, his understanding of the railways is on full display in this novel which depends a lot on train schedules, time-tables, compartments. However, I found it difficult to bear in mind all the different places, the different modes of transport, the measuring of distances, the calculation of speed etc.

Where Crofts excels, is in the detailing of the police work. " Use your grey cells, as that Belgian would say," French exclaims at one point. But as the novel demonstrates, though the grey cells do come in handy, investigation also requires a lot of leg-work, running around in circles, following leads which reach nowhere, overcoming despondency when there is no even a glimmer of a clue, paper-work, extracting information from unwilling witnesses... all in all a lot of sweat and hard work.

What I found interesting was the historical references peppered through-out the book.

The book, first published in 1930, is dedicated to 'To my many good friends in Northern Ireland'. French's senior, Superintendent Mitchell, reminiscences: "I know Dublin well... Used to be there often before the troubles." One of the leads the police follow is that Sir John might have been attacked by somebody opposed to him politically since he was a Unionist. And when one of the police-officers from Belfast is dismissive of the policy of changing the names of towns by the leadership of the Free State, French enjoys the note of superiority of the northern speaking of Free State activities.


Despite not enjoying this particular book, I'll like to read more of Crofts.


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First Line: It was on Monday Morning, the 7th of October, that Inspector French first heard the name of Sir John Macgill.

Title: Sir John Macgill's Last Journey.

Author: Freeman Wills Crofts

Publication Details: London: Collins, 1935 (Classic Crime Club)

First Published: 1930

Pages: 288

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The book might be available in libraries since I borrowed from one myself.

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Submitted for the Vintage Mystery Challenge


Also submitted for the following challenges: British Books, Find the Cover, Mystery and suspense, New Authors, Support Your Local Library

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Submitted for Pattinase's Friday Forgotten Books.



6 comments:

  1. Neer, I' m glad you found a Croft book and sorry you didn't really enjoy it. I hope you enjoy a different one by him! I'm going to be starting the 12:30 from Croydon soon, that will be my first. Will let you know what I thought!

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    1. The book was okay. It has't put me off Crofts. There were some parts that were very interesting. I look forward to your review of 12:30... which seems like another one with a train-travel.

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  2. I think you'd probably like THE BOX OFFICE MURDERS (UK title). You may also find the same book under the US title THE PURPLE SICKLE MURDERS. Less railway talk and timetables, more traditional detection. Young girls being terroized by a criminal syndicate all of whom work at a movie theater box office. It's a good 'un, as my hick grandma would say.

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    1. Thanks John for the suggestion. The novel does sound different. Cinema must have been a fairly new medium at that time so it would be interesting to see how it is used in the story.

      Sorry not being conversant with certain American usage, I have no idea of the word 'hick' over here. What does it mean?

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  3. A hick is someone who is naive in speech in manner, usually used to describe someone from a rural area in the U.S. It's often used disparagingly (and incorrectly) to describe *anyone* who's not a city dweller. I use it lovingly to describe my grandma who, when she was alive, may not have been one of the intelligentsia, but was still a lot of fun to be around. She told great stories, was a friend to everyone she met, and had a wicked sense of humor.

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    1. Thanks for the explanation. Your grandmother sounds like great fun. You two must have had a wonderful time sharing stories.

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