The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts

Enough to drive a girl to drink…


The CaskAs a cargo ship is unloading at the docks in London, an accident causes a cask to fall and split. Two employees of the shipping company spot that some gold coins have fallen from it so not unnaturally they decide to have a little poke around inside to see if there are more. There are, but more shockingly there is also a dead hand which appears to be attached to an equally dead woman! So begins this ridiculously over-complicated, utterly tedious investigation into the death of someone I didn’t care about at the hands of one of the tiny group of suspects about whom I cared even less. If only the cask had been full of red wine, I could have got paralytically drunk and been happy…

Dear me, that’s the nearest I’ve come to death by boredom in a while! I’ve read a few of Crofts’ extremely procedural procedurals now, with varying degrees of enthusiasm or lack thereof, but this one is in a class of its own. Pages and pages and pages of shipping routes of casks, three detectives going over and over and over the same pieces of evidence again and again and again, zero characterisation of victims, suspects or detectives – truly it is a mystery to me how anyone manages to make it all the way through to the end of this with their sanity intact. I gave up at 53% when it became clear to me that I would soon be screaming out loud rather than just inside my head. I was “interested” enough to flick to the last chapter to find out which of the suspects had done the deed, and when I got there I realised I’d been right along – I really didn’t care!

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age
Publication Year: 1920

And since I’m moaning, let me have a brief rant about the dialogue. People do not speak as if they are a business letter. No one – NO ONE – ever – in the history of the universe – has ever said in conversation, and I quote:

“That cask, as you see, was invoiced out via Havre and Southampton on the 30th ultimo, and yet it turned up in London on Monday, the 5th instant,…”

Good grief! And then there’s the convoluted journey of the corpse-containing cask, which turns up in Paris, London, Southampton, Le Havre and Rouen, some of them several times. Why? WHY?? Why would a murderer go to these ridiculous lengths to get rid of a body? What’s wrong with burying it in the woods or, since it crosses the Channel at least three times as far as I could gather, dumping it in the sea? And I don’t wish to lower the tone, but would a corpse travelling about in a cask for days in the height of summer remain… ahem… fresh??

(I realise the answers to the above may be given in the 47% of the book I didn’t read, but despite my mouth-frothing ranting, I DON’T CARE!!)

Freeman Wills Croft

This was apparently Crofts’ first book, so a very strong argument against reading books in order. He undoubtedly did improve, even if his later books occasionally also bore me into fits of the screaming abdabs. At least he got over the desire to make his characters talk as if they were dictating letters to their secretaries. Apparently writer and critic Julian Symons classed him as one of “the humdrum school” of mystery novelists – on the basis of this one I feel Symons was being too kind. But Martin Edwards is even kinder when he uses the euphemism “meticulous” to describe the endless mind-numbing tediosity of repeated details. Amazingly the book has sold over 100,000 copies. I downloaded my copy free and yet still feel I’ve been overcharged…

If you’ve been having too interesting a time recently and feel the desire to be bored rigid for a change, you too can read this – it’s available here. But get your own cask of medicinal wine first – I’ll need all of mine…

57 thoughts on “The Cask by Freeman Wills Crofts

    • Haha, you couldn’t have!! You must have had at least a cask of wine before you read it then! 😉 I fear that if he had mentioned one more invoice or receipt my head would have exploded, so it seemed a good idea to stop…

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This post made me laugh! A good argument against reading books in order, indeed. I’ve only read two of his books and both went into in-depth detail that bored and baffled me. I shall avoid The Cask!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really enjoyed the first one I read, The Mystery on Southampton Waters, but it’s been going downhill ever since and this one touched the bottom! I think I’ll steer clear of him until my psychological scars heal… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been in need of a laugh this week, thanks for the service. I’ll stick to the red wine for mind-numbing purposes, the book sounds utterly ridiculous.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So, FictionFan, what did you think of The Cask? 😉 – In all seriousness, I agree with you about the dialogue. Whatever else it is, it’s certainly not authentic. And I always respect the way you send a book to Station DNF when it doesn’t work for you. Life’s too short to keep on with a book once you know it’s not for you. You make an interesting point about it being his first novel. A lot of authors get better as time goes by.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d kinda got so far I felt I should stick it out to the end, but then I realised I might actually go insane (or more insane)… 😉 Yes, I haven’t read many of his books but he definitely improved. He’s one of very few authors who’ve had both five star and one star reviews from me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. 😬😬😬😬 Yikes!!!! I’m trying to recall if I ever used the words “invoiced” and “via” in the same sentence or . . . at all. Probably, since I have sent invoices for payment. And though I know what via means, I never use it in everyday speech. So I would probably would have quit this book in the first chapter. Good on you for lasting as long as you did.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I feel certain your review is far more entertaining than the book itself. I remember thinking it might have potential when you mentioned it in an earlier post, but clearly it fell short! I hope you’ve recuperated from the trauma. (or at least found another bottle of wine)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh no, I have a copy of this book and I will have to give it a try. I am glad to hear at least one of the commenters liked it. On the positive side, at least I did not pay for my copy, my husband passed it on to me. I cannot remember whether he read it or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, hopefully you’ll love it – loads of people seem to! I’ve always preferred character-based stories to these very procedural kind of mysteries, so I’m sure I’m as much to blame as the book… 😉


    • Haha, I must admit I am quite often baffled about the books Martin Edwards has chosen as part of his 100 Classic Crime novels. But some of them have been great, so I’ll just keep drinking the wine as I struggle on… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I wondered how you would get on with The Cask… I did some skimming with this one and the dialog *is* dire, there are reasons for all that moving around though I’d be hard-pressed to explain the details now, but surprisingly the ending isn’t half bad. The book struck me as pretty 19th-century moving towards Crofts’ GA books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I’m glad it wasn’t just me that felt that way about the dialogue. I’ve liked some of his later books, so I give him a pass for this one – I’m glad I didn’t read it first though! I agree – it does seem like an older style before the Golden Age really kicked off.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t like the older mysteries that get bogged down in timetables and details either. There’s a Dorothy Sayers one that has loads and loads of information about train timetables. Boring!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Uh-oh, this sounds like a dreary waste of precious time. That said, FF, I do love it when you pan something so delightfully! Congrats on slogging through at least half of it before tossing it at the wall!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, oddly, I loved Southampton Water – I think I gave it five stars! There’s a lot of detail in it too, but much better characterisation and generally a more interesting story. So I think you’ve picked a winner! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I enjoyed the book much more than you did. I concede that the plot is needlessly convoluted to my taste as well and the book overly long, but I enjoyed the detailed/meticulous investigation and was not troubled by the way people talk (or are being depicted as talking). I very much agree that this book is not the best way to discover Crofts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, I always struggle with these very procedural books – I don’t really have that kind of problem-solving mind. I prefer books where it’s all about the motive. But I have liked some of his later books so I haven’t fallen out with him completely… 😉


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