「一緒だ！ バカかてめえ。 鹿児島行きの便だろ、これ」
"I'm going to Kagoshima today. Where are you heading?"
"The same place of course! Are you stupid?! This is the plane to Kagoshima!"
"Aikawa Chou" (Sandwichman sketch)
Am I the only person who for a long time, kept confusing Freeman Wills Crofts and R. Austin Freeman? Also, I keep writing Will instead of Wills!
Freeman Wills Crofts') The 12.30 From Croydon (1934). When they arrive in France though, they discover that Crowther has not survived the jump over the pond. Flashback some weeks earlier, where we learn about Crowther's nephew Charles Swinburn and the imminent danger his factory is facing because of the Great Depresson. Pleading with his wealthy uncle doesn't help, as Crother thinks Charles isn't doing his best and he should try harder. But trying harder won't help a business that will go belly-up in maybe two weeks, so Charles decides that to save the factory, his employees and the chance to marry his love, Crowther must die, so he can inherit. Charles concocts an intricate plan to poison his uncle, which succeeds, but after the crime other problems pop up he hadn't foreseen, one of which the famous Inspector French.
Two years ago, I read Freeman Wills Crofts' Mystery on Southampton Water and I loved the thrilling inverted adventure. In fact, I loved it so much I bought The 12.30 From Croydon soon after finishing that book (a Japanese translation because I was in Japan at the time). And it took me over two years to read it. Well, it took me three days once I actually got started, but I have read the prologue at least five times the last two years... I should probably just read Crofts in English, instead of an old Japanese translation...
Anyway, so the only other Crofts I've read is Mystery on Southampton Water, which is very similar to The 12.30 From Croydon: they were published in the same year (1934), both are inverted mystery stories starring Inspector French, both are about a man trying to save a business in trouble, both plans initially work, but other unforeseen problems pop up that force the protagonist to take emergency measures.. So I am very tempted to compare the two novels, and in my opinion, The 12.30 From Croydon is the less entertaining one. Not that it is bad, but it I find it less alluring. One of the reasons I liked Mystery on Southampton Water was the tension of the story and the presentation: it starts out as an inverted mystery with spy-thriller theme, jumps to a police procedural part starring Inspector French and turn jumps back to a second inverted mystery plot, and even though the writing style (in the Japanese translation) was very bland and dry, I was still captivated from start till finish.
The 12.30 From Croydon however sticks with Charles for practically all of the story: French appears a few times, but he is only allowed to talk about his investigation in the final two chapters of the novel. Until that part, we just follow Charles in his adventures and even though there are some thrilling events after the murder on Crowther, especially past the 70% mark when everything starts to fall apart, the story misses a kind of tension because the reader doesn't know why everything is going wrong. Suddenly the police is very suspicious of Charles, and neither he nor the reader knows why. It just happens and the reader and Charles just have to sit still and accept it all. Of course, Inspector French does explain how he first came to suspect Charles in the end, but I didn't like the way the story suddenly switched to a very passive role for Charles.
In Mystery on Southampton Water, we saw a lot more of Inspector French's investigations, so we knew why he started to haunt the suspects. It's the same with Columbo: after the murder, the murderer and Columbo usually share screentime and we see how both sides react to each other. Tension is created, because the reader is aware of what is going on at both sides (to an extent), like seeing a chess game. In comparison, The 12.30 From Croydon is like watching a chess game where you only see the white pieces and you're only told what happened and where the opponent's pieces were after you lost the king. Emphasis lies on the criminal's psychology and the thoughts he has as he reacts to each new development, which can be fun, I guess, but I personally prefer the excitement of seeing how both sides react to each other, rather than just one side of a game with an inverted mystery.
The 12.30 From Croydon is an okay inverted mystery, but so many of its elements are featured in the more amusing Mystery on Southampton Water, I am tempted to say you're better of reading that novel than Croydon. If you're more into criminal psychology and so, Croydon might have more to offer than Southampton though.