Inspector French and the Crime at Guildford by Freeman Wills Croft

Robbery and murder…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Renowned jewellery company, Nornes Ltd., is in trouble. The long recession has driven them into losses and now that it’s over business isn’t picking up as much as they’d hoped. The directors have to make a decision quickly – to raise extra cash to allow them to struggle on in the hopes of better times ahead, or to go into voluntary liquidation, sell off their stock, and each take a financial hit. They decide to hold a secret meeting at the home of the managing director in Guildford to discuss matters, and invite the company’s accountant along to give them his advice. But things are about to get worse. First the accountant is found dead – murdered – the morning after he arrives, and then they discover that somehow the company’s safe has been emptied of half a million pounds’ worth of jewels. Chief Inspector French is in charge of the investigation into the theft, and must work with his colleagues in Guildford to see if the two events are linked, as seems likely…

As with the other Crofts novels I’ve read, this is as much howdunit as whodunit, with two separate mysteries to solve. Firstly, how could the accountant have been murdered when it appears no one could have gone to his room without being seen around the time of death determined by the doctor? And secondly, how could anyone have been able to bypass the strict security measures surrounding the keys to the safe in order to steal the jewels? French feels that he has to answer these questions before he has any hope of discovering who did the crimes.

These books are extremely procedural police procedurals, probably more true to life than most crime novels. Unfortunately I find that tends to make them a bit plodding. French goes over the same questions again and again, worrying away at tiny bits of evidence, painstakingly checking statements and alibis, following trails that lead nowhere, until eventually he has a moment of inspiration that puts him on the right track, and from thereon it becomes a matter of finding sufficient evidence to prove his theory in court.

In two of the three French books I’ve read so far, I’ve also had the unusual experience for me of working out at least part of the howdunit long before French gets there, a thing I’m usually rubbish at, which suggests to me they must be relatively obvious. In this one, I had spotted how the murder must have been done by about the halfway mark, although I’d never in a million years have worked out how the robbery was carried out. As French suspected would happen, though, working out how the murder was done pointed directly at the villain, so I also had a good idea of whodunit from early on too. So I spent a good deal of the book waiting for French to catch up. All of this rather made the long middle part of the book drag for me.

Freeman Wills Croft

However, the beginning is interesting as we meet the various suspects and learn about the company’s difficulties. The solution to the safe robbery is ingenious and certainly something I’ve never come across before. And the end takes on mild aspects of the thriller as French and his colleagues try to trap their suspects into giving themselves away. Again it’s done strictly realistically, showing how the police would actually operate. This is interesting and gives the book credibility, but I must admit it doesn’t make for heart-pounding excitement.

I think it’s probably a subjective taste thing – I can see how this detailed investigative technique could work well for the puzzle-solvers among us, but for me there wasn’t enough concentration on the characterisation, while the motive – straightforward robbery for financial gain – is never one that interests me much. So a middling read for me, but one that will doubtless be more appreciated by true howdunit fans.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Collins Crime Club.

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30 thoughts on “Inspector French and the Crime at Guildford by Freeman Wills Croft

  1. I am yet to read an Inspector French book but my mom who was just reading the Hogs Back Mystery had somewhat the same thing to say re the howdunit. But she did say she enjoyed it overall.

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  2. You have a good point, FictionFan, that the ‘how’ tends to be a major point in these books. I know what you mean about the slower pace of them for that reason. They can be a bit draggy here and there, I’ll admit, but I like them anyway. I like Inspector French, and I like the way he goes about finding out the truth. Perhaps it’s because, as you say, the books probably reflect real-life police work, and that gives them a bit of authenticity. Either way, I’m glad you found a lot to like here.

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    • I enjoyed the first one I read very much – it seemed to have more of a mystery element alongside the howdunit aspects. Perhaps I just read them too close together – I usually try not to read several books by the same author close in time since I begin to notice stylistic elements too much. I’d certainly be happy to read more of him in the future, though – not a top favourite author, but still enjoyable.

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  3. You’ve started with “renowned jewellery company” so that got my attention. I’m intrigued by your review, it seems like an interesting book, especially as there is a robbery too.

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    • Ha, yes, if I could think of a way of stealing half a million quid’s worth of jewellery, I’d be tempted! 😉 These are enjoyable mysteries especially if you like trying to solve the how puzzle. It’s not my favourite style but I can see why they’re highly regarded.

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  4. Hmm. So the book was interesting, but not stellar? I’m glad it held your interest enough for you to finish it. A howdunit sounds intriguing. But the dull middle part worries me.

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    • Maybe it’s only dull to me because I don’t find the how aspects as interesting as motives and character. Certainly he has lots of dedicated fans, so if the howdunit intrigues you I’m sure you’d find him worth a try… 😀

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    • It might only be dull to me because I never find howdunits particularly interesting – I prefer mysteries that rely on motive and characters more. But I wouldn’t twist your arm to read this one, you’ll be glad to hear… 😉

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    • Yes, exactly, and also on the specific “why”. I’m afraid that’s why I never find robbery an exciting basis for a mystery either – there’s no mystery about the motive. Give me a good murder for twisted reasons… 😉

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  5. I think my response would be similar to yours for this book. Although I’m a puzzle solver in some spheres of life, I like more involvement with characters and settings in the stories I read.

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    • Yes, I wish I liked “impossible crimes” more since they’re such a feature of Golden Age mysteries, but I never find them as interesting as books where the characters and motives are the focus and, as you say, a good setting.

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  6. It’s a good point about realistic police procedurals tending to be boring. But who needs realism? I doubt that all the ingenious murder cover-ups, which the culprits apply in classic crime novels have ever been attempted in real life.

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    • I agree – I feel realism in crime novels misses the point, which is that they’re a form of entertainment! Maybe in heavyweight crime tending towards lit-fic realism is important, but all I want is a dead body and a bunch of interesting characters each with a motive… Professor Plum in the Study with the Lead Piping! 😀

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  7. Sounds like a good premise, but I think I’m on your side here, FF — too much of the “how” without enough of the “who” or “why” doesn’t make for an enjoyable read. But I’d really like knowing how those jewels were taken!

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    • Ha, the jewel theft was all down to the kind of technical gadgetry that always leaves me wondering how anyone could possibly work it out, but maybe that’s just because I’m not technically minded! And that’s probably why the howdunit never works for me as well as books focusing on motive and character…

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  8. I think I’d feel the same way you did here FF-I like a good police procedural, but not too police-ey. They always say that being a police office can be so boring with all the paperwork involved, which means I’m happy to suspend my disbelief when a police officer solves a crime taking only a few days and a few meetings!

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