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The Hog's Back Mystery

Page history last edited by Glenda Browne 15 years ago

Crofts, Freeman Wills - The Hog's Back Mystery (1933)


Middling Inspector French mystery, in both quality and period, this was the first book published during Crofts’ brief association with Hodder & Stoughton from 1933-34. Later, he rejoined the Crime Club for three novels before again settling at Hodder, where he remained for the rest of his writing career.


Set in Surrey, this tells the story of the remarkable disappearance of Dr. Earle, who vanishes from his study in extraordinary circumstances. French is soon on the job and as usual sets to work with the methodical, painstaking efficiency that is so characteristic of all his investigations. With some nice work, he discovers that the Doctor is not the only person to have disappeared on the day in question, and soon he is also on the track of a missing nurse. The Doctor’s unhappy home life and the inconsistency of the evidence suggest the possibility of a voluntary disappearance and for some time the police are at an impasse. However, when one of the chief witnesses also goes missing, French begins to believe there is a connecting thread between all the cases. As usual, he uncovers that thread by dogged determination, mixed with occasional sparks of intelligent deduction, though this time without the extensive travel that is often a feature of Crofts’ books. French’s enquiries lead him to investigate the death of one of the Doctor’s patients, which proves to have been the catalyst to all that has followed and soon he is investigating four murders.


Although opening strongly, this doesn’t quite manage to maintain the same level through to the end. Once again Crofts fails back on the device of using more than one criminal – one of whom is readily discernable to the intelligent reader – in order to construct a mechanism of the crime. The denouement is rather staid, with the page numbers of the important clues quoted to the reader rather than a wholly satisfying description of a rather complicated plot, as well as a lack of any really clinching proof of French’s complex theory. While eminently readable, this not Crofts best, but it is still far from his worst and a worthwhile addition to any collection.



R E Faust

Three mysterious disappearances from homes arrayed around the ridge formation known as the hog's back? Sounds like a case for Inspector (soon to be Chief Inspector, on the strength of this case) French! One of Crofts' most praised books yet one of the hardest to find (it's a little more available under its clunky American title, The Strange Case of Dr. Earle), it's a book for the true Crofts' devotee, with a solution hanging mostly on locations, movements and alibis. There's something intriguing about those multiple disappearances of seemingly blameless people, however; and the way French goes about solving the case, with no nonsense about love interest and such, also has interest. Crofts provides a little human interest in the beginning; but, by the time of the final disappearance, he leaves off with the personal element and concentrates on French's investigation, which is probably just as well with this author. Nor are there any of those foreign trips, something Crofts so loved to detail, with the action being confined within a narrow compass. A small-scale work, but very much the sort of thing Crofts does so well, for people who like Crofts.


Historical note: John Rhode published the somewhat similar The Venner Crime the same year (though it depends characteristically on science rather than alibis). More I won't say, except to ask, do great detective novelist minds think alike?



Comments (1)

Richard Wells said

at 6:42 am on May 6, 2011

I generally much enjoy the intricately constructed false alibis so typical of Crofts's work. But those in "The Hog's Back Mystery" rely on such an extreme wealth of confusing detail that, for me, the effort of keeping it all in mind makes this not an entirely enjoyable book to read. Moreover the plot, like that of the much better "Cask", is so very elaborate that Crofts could not make it quite perfect. Had Earle not happened to be alone at the critical time, he could not have been murdered. Without the chance that his family could pinpoint the time of his disappearance, the meticulous plans for alibis for his murder would all have been worthless.

Richard Wells

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