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Wednesday 30 November 2016

‘The 12.30 From Croydon’ by Freeman Wills Crofts

Published by British Library,
19 July 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-7123-5649-7

The 12.30 From Croydon is an inverted novel. This is a novel where the reader follows the perpetrator as he or she conceives the idea of the crime, commits it and then follows the course and outcome of the investigation. However Chapter One is not in the viewpoint of the perpetrator, it is in the viewpoint of young Rose Morley. Rose is accompanying her father, Peter Morley, and her maternal grandfather, Andrew Crowther, and Crowther's manservant, Weatherup, on an aeroplane journey to Paris to be at the bedside of Rose's mother, who has been injured in an accident. In this skilful way the author manages to introduce several details about the journey through the wondering eyes of a child. However, because she is a child, Rose fails to comprehend the most important thing of all: it is not until her father tells her afterwards that she realises that her grandfather is dead.

In Chapter Two we go back to four weeks before Andrew Crowther's death and follow Charles Swinburne, Andrew's nephew, as it occurs to him that all his problems would be solved if his uncle died. Charles owns and runs Crowther Electromotor Works, the firm set up by Andrew Crowther and Charles' father. Now Andrew is retired and Charles' father has died. Charles had run the firm well until the economic slump had damaged his business. Charles knows that he is Andrew's co-heir, along with Andrew's daughter, Peter's wife. He also knows that Andrew will not understand that the current economic situation is responsible for Charles' failure and is unlikely to lend Charles a suitable sum of money for the new machinery he needs. Even worse, if he is disappointed in Charles he might well disinherit him. Charles is appalled at the thought of laying off his men, knowing that they will struggle to find new jobs and they and their families will suffer terrible hardship. However, at the root of Charles decision is selfishness, partly because he does not wish to lose the status being a successfully businessman gives him, but mainly because he is in love with Una Mellor, a mercenary young woman who would never marry a poor man.

The reader follows Charles as he first thinks of killing his uncle, shies away from it and then embraces the idea; and as he plans how to commit the crime. Having decided on poison he has to work out how to acquire it in a way that won't lead to his detection, and how to administer it. When the deed is done the reader observes his see-saw of emotions – his worry at the start of the investigation, his relief when the Coroner rules Andrew's death as suicide and his mounting fear as he realises that the police are not satisfied with this verdict; his concern when he realises that Peter Morley may be suspected of the crime; his second foray into violence; and his emotions when the case is brought to court.

As well as the local police officers, Detective Inspector French, the author's series' detective is on the case, and the final two chapters are devoted to French explaining to a group of interested professionals his insights into the murder.

The 12.30 From Croydon is a skilfully crafted book, exploring in detail the mechanics of murder and the emotions of the murderer. The author elicits some sympathy for Charles without condoning the crime he commits. It is interesting to see Inspector French from a criminal's point of view as 'a pleasant, rather kindly and very ordinary man.' The pace of the book is measured and rather slow, which gives the effect of a crime and investigation in real time, but the tension is maintained and built up throughout the book, culminating in the final trial scenes. French's exposition of what aroused his suspicions and how he built his case is fascinating. If the style of The 12.30 From Croydon was an experiment for Freeman Wills Crofts it should be counted as a successful one.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Freeman Wills Crofts (1879-1957) was one of the pre-eminent writers in the golden age of British crime fiction. He was the author of more than thirty detective novels, and was greatly acclaimed by peers such as Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her latest book The Fragility of Poppies was published 10 June 2016.

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