The Man Who Didn’t Fly by Margot Bennett

A puzzling mystery…

😀 😀 😀 😀

A plane crashes en route to Dublin. Four men were supposed to have been going on the trip, but only three boarded the plane. There were no survivors and no bodies have been found. The first problem is that no one knows which of the four men is the one who is, presumably, still alive. The second problem is that he hasn’t turned up, explaining why he missed the flight. Inspector Lewis and his assistant, Sergeant Young, have to backtrack through the last day or two to see if they can identify the man who didn’t fly, and find out why he has disappeared…

This is a very odd crime novel. I assumed the crime would be that the plane had been deliberately destroyed, meaning that the pilot and passengers had been murdered. But this idea never seems to feature much. Maybe back in the 1950s, planes were always falling out of the sky en route to Dublin so it didn’t seem so suspicious? Instead, Lewis and Young seem to be merely trying to identify the dead and the living, for the sake of the inquests. And yet I couldn’t quite swallow the idea that two relatively high-level officers would be assigned to such a task. Fortunately, however, it soon transpires that all four of the men had secrets, so the lack of an obvious crime soon fades into the background as the investigation begins to centre on what they’d all been up to in the days before the flight.

Some of the early part follows the usual detective story format of Lewis questioning locals, but soon he hones in on the Wade family, who seem to have had connections with all four of the men. From then on it’s told partly through members of the family giving their recollections, mixed with a straight third-person narrative of what they’re telling. Again odd, but it does work eventually, after a rather slow and confusing start. Mostly we see the action from the perspective of Hester, the older of Mr Wade’s two daughters. She’s a sensible young woman, who is worried that her father seems bent on speculating his small remaining fortune on the advice of one of the plane’s passengers. Another is the Wade’s lodger, a strange, nervous man who seems almost paranoid at times. A third man is a neighbour and long-time friend of the family. And the fourth is Harry, a ne’er-do-well with poetical aspirations, with whom young Hester is beginning to fancy herself in love. So the family is as keen to know who has survived as the police are, and readily co-operate in telling all they know of the days leading up to the crash.

Margot Bennett

The basis for the plot is all a bit silly really, and not terribly credible. But the actual plotting of the mystery element is excellent – it’s a real puzzle, based on clues and logic and elimination. The reader has as much chance as the police to work out the identities of the men on the basis of the clues given. Needless to say, I didn’t, although some parts of the story were easier to guess at than others. The characterisation is a bit contrived to serve the plot, and I must admit it took me ages before I could tell most of the missing men apart without checking back each time to remind myself which was which. Harry the poet and the Wade family members are much better drawn, especially Hester, who provides a rare character to care about amidst the many unlikeable and unscrupulous people in the cast.

Overall, I have rather mixed feelings about it. I enjoyed the second half much more than the first, and suspect it would greatly appeal to people who enjoy the challenge of a clue-based logic puzzle. It’s not quite as successful in terms of character and motive, but these aspects are still strong enough to give an enjoyable background for the puzzle elements. One for the mind rather than the emotions, I think.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 253…

Episode 253

Despite the arrival of actual book-post from publishers this week (Yay!!) the astonishing fall in the TBR continues – down 2 to 198! However, if it cheers up any of you who are severely distressed at the idea of a falling TBR, I should perhaps admit to having acquired eight audiobooks in Audible’s sale…

Here are a few more that should blow my mind soon…

Fiction

Sula by Toni Morrison

The final book of my 20 Books of Summer list, but will I get to it in time? It’ll be a nail-biting race to the finish line… 

The Blurb says: As girls, Nel and Sula shared each other’s discoveries and dreams in the poor black mid-West of their childhood. Then Sula ran away to live her dreams and Nel got married. Ten years later Sula returns and no one, least of all Nel, trusts her. Sula is the story of the fear that makes people accept self-pity; the fear that will not countenance escape and that justifies itself through myth and legend. Sula herself is cast as a witch and demon by the people who resent her strength. They attack her with the most pervasive weapon of all, the weapon of language and story. But Sula is a woman of power, a wayward force who challenges the smallness of a world that tries to hold her down.

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Fiction

Clouds by Chandrahas Choudhury

A few years ago, I read and adored Choudhury’s earlier book, Arzee the Dwarf, and have waited a long, long time for a new one. This one has been out for a while in India, but hasn’t had a proper publication in the UK, which makes me feel it may have been considered too intrinsically Indian to work well for an international market. But we’ll see – I think the blurb sounds great!

The Blurb says: Recently divorced psychotherapist Farhad Billimoria realizes he will never find love again in Bombay and prepares for a move to San Francisco. On a farewell tour throughout the city, his mind crackles with bittersweet memories and giddy dreams. But is love about to bloom for Farhad just as he has given up on the city? And if it does, will he bring to it the man that he is, or the one he wants to become?

Elsewhere in Bombay, the tribal youth Rabi remains stuck as the caretaker to his parents, two ailing and cranky old Brahmins. Rabi comes from the remote Cloud people of eastern India, a sky-watching tribe that observes the Cloudmaker–the mercurial God who drifts and muses in the skies–and that is dragged into the modern world when a mining company invades their sacred mountain. Rabi’s mentor Bhagaban, a forward-thinking filmmaker, leads their resistance. But will Rabi follow Bhagaban or his parents, who reassert a golden Indian past?

From one of India’s most celebrated young writers, Clouds illuminates the inner lives of characters forging their own paths in the great metropolis and shows a vast, prismatic portrait of modern India in all its tumult and glory.

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Vintage Crime

The Man Who Didn’t Fly by Margot Bennett

Courtesy of the British Library. Another new-to-me author and a Scottish one at that! It sounds like fun, although early reviews are distinctly mixed. (If I find I’m not in the mood for any one of the last few books on my 20 Books list, I might swap this one in…)

The Blurb says: Four men had arranged to fly to Dublin. When their aeroplane descended as a fireball into the Irish Sea, only three of them were on board. With the identities of the passengers lost beneath the waves, a tense and perplexing investigation begins to determine the living from the dead, with scarce evidence to follow beyond a few snippets of overheard conversation and one family’s patchy account of the three days prior to the flight.

Who was the man who didn’t fly? What did he have to gain? And would he commit such an explosive murder to get it? First published in 1955, Bennett’s ingenious mystery remains an innovative and thoroughly entertaining inversion of the classic whodunit.

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Reginald Hill on Audio

Exit Lines by Reginald Hill read by Colin Buchanan

Continuing my slow re-read of my favourite crime series of all time, I thought it would be fun to try the audio version of this one. I’m not a huge fan of Colin Buchanan’s portrayal of Pascoe in the TV series, so may or may not get on with him as a narrator. But I have the paper copy to fall back on if necessary… 

The Blurb says: Three old men die on a stormy November night: one by deliberate violence, one in a road accident and one by an unknown cause,

Inspector Pascoe is called in to investigate the first death, but when the dying words of the accident victim suggest that a drunken Superintendent Dalziel had been behind the wheel, the integrity of the entire Mid-Yorkshire CID is called into question.

Helped by the bright but wayward Detective-Constable Seymour, hindered by ‘Maggie’s Moron’, the half-witted Constable Hector, Peter Pascoe enters the twilight and vulnerable world of the senior citizen – to discover that the beckoning darkness at the end of the tunnel holds few comforts.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

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Quick Reminder: For those who are planning to read A Month in the Country, the date for reviews and comments is Monday, 31st August. I’ll be starting it soon – hope we all enjoy it!

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?