Last week after deciding to join the #1920 Club, I asked which of the four books on my wishlist should definitely be read for the event. Nick Fuller @ The Grandest Game in the World, rooted strongly for Crofts’ debut: The Cask. [Nick’s review of the book can be read over here]. Thanks Nick and here am I.
Tom Broughton, a junior clerk at the Insular and Continental Navigation Co., is asked to oversee the unloading of a consignment of wine which has just arrived from France and he hurries to the docks, glad to be out of the stuffy office:
To Broughton these boats represented links with the mysterious, far-off world of romance, and he never saw one put to sea without longing to go with her to Copenhagen, Bordeaux, Lisbon, Spezzia, or to whatever other delightful-sounding place she was bound.
[Doesn’t that quote delight you also?]
As Broughton watches, a few casks overbalance. Two are undamaged, from one, wine spills, and from the fourth, which is quite unlike the other casks, sovereigns roll out. Broughton and Harkness, the foreman, decide to investigate and open the crack a little more…only to recoil because they feel a hand inside the cask. But is it a statue or a human hand?
Before they can get their bearings, a Frenchman, Lenon Felix arrives, claiming the cask. Broughton delays things taking Felix to the main office and asking Harkness not to release the cask. However, Felix is able to somehow get the cask away. Inspector Burnley takes over the case and the cask is located. Only it disappears again, appears, and disappears again. Finally, at the end of Part I of the book, the cask is finally located and after it is opened, the body of a young woman is found inside it. Felix collapses at seeing the corpse and is taken to the hospital. Meanwhile Inspector Burnley crosses the channel and along with the help of Surete Inspector M.Lefarge tries to solve the case. At the end of their investigations, Felix is charged with murder. In the third part of the novel, a private detective tries to prove that Felix is innocent. Does he succeed?
When I read my first Crofts, Sir John Macgill’s Last Journey, I became convinced that though I may instinctively guess the identity of a murderer in a Crofts novel, I’ll never be able to guess his/ her identity through the painstaking efforts undertaken by the investigator. The meticulous going through timetables, the dogged persistence of examining the coming and going is beyond me. And in this novel as one cask became two casks and then three casks and started travelling across the channel and as the casks were joined by people also travelling from France to England to Scotland to Belgium, I simply read on, not bothering about the days and dates and hours of arrival and departure, just enjoying the investigative procedure of the inspectors and wondering whether the person I thought was the murderer would turn out to be the killer or not.
After such an entertaining second act, the third act seems like such a drag. As the detective retraces the steps of the two inspectors the book becomes repetitive. Also since I had liked the two inspectors the detective did not appeal to me much. Why didn’t Crofts have the two inspectors continue with the investigation as the evidence against Felix was basically circumstantial? The ending too seemed rushed though one has to admire the confidence of the murderer.
Have you read this? What are your views?
First Line: Mr. Avery, managing director of the Insular and Continental Steam Navigation Company, had just arrived at his office.
Publication Details: NY: Dover Publications, 1977
First Published: 1920
Source: Faded Page
Submitted for Friday’s Forgotten Books and The #1920 Club