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Sir John Magill's Last Journey

Page history last edited by PBworks 11 years, 10 months ago

Crofts, Freeman Wills - Sir John Magill's Last Journey (1930)



Review by Nick Fuller


Crofts’s favourite, but not his best. It gets off to a flying start with French’s investigations into the disappearance of Magill in the vicinity of Whitehead, the discovery of his corpse, and the stripping away of the preliminary levels of the plot. Halfway through, though, the rattling pace comes to a grinding halt, and is replaced by a steady, if steadily unexciting, walking pace. It cannot be said that French does much reasoning: there is much inquiry into the movements of trains and boats (too mathematical for the lay reader), but his detection consists largely of interviewing witness after witness and letting them solve the puzzle for him. The reader is more fortunate, for the solution is obvious from the start. Since the sleeping draught is given on Wednesday and much attention is paid to the details of Wednesday night, it is quite obvious that the Thursday night business was faked. The solution is over-complicated, and the mass conspiracy to murder one man seems a case of overkill. How superior is Five Red Herrings!


I recently reread this title, with enjoyment. I'm not the biggest fan of rigorous alibi checking, but there is loads of it here; and there's something mesmerizing about it all. Crofts focuses like a laser beam on the problem, the disappearance of Sir John Magill, with no deplorable distractions like love interest, gangs or trips to France. French has an enjoyable investigative partner in a North Ireland cop, and the whole thing is quite fun, with a masterful demonstration near the end. Clearly this work inspired Sayers' own fine alibi novel, Five Red Herrings, which shares a similar setting and mechanics. Not to everyone's tastes in these degenerate days, but in its own day SJMLJ was highly esteemed, and I think justifiably so.



Comments (1)

Joan Cook said

at 2:30 am on Jun 6, 2012

This is just a comment about Sir John Magill's Last Journey versus The Five Red Herrings. I'm reading Barbara Reynolds's biography* of Dorothy Sayers, and on pages 232-233 she writes:

An odd coincidence had occurred in connection with Freeman Wills Crofts, as Dorothy reported to [Victor] Gollancz [her publisher]:

This book [her own], in which all the places are real and which turns on actual distances and real railway time-tables, is laid in
exactly the same part of the country as Freeman Wills Crofts' new book, which also turns on real distances and time-tables! We
only discovered this the other day, in the course of a correspondence about something else. The two plots are, of course, entirely
different, and it doesn't really matter a pin.

So apparently the two books actually have nothing to do with each other.


*Barbara Reynolds: Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

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