Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, my then husband and I went on a Freeman Wills Croft reading binge. There my familiarity with this British Golden Age author ends. If you ask me which books we read and what did I think of them (other than the fact that I must have enjoyed them or I wouldn't have kept reading) I couldn't tell you.
But recently, Croft's name began popping up in online conversation and I determined to reread some of his books once again if I could find them. (Not as easy as one might think.) As luck would have it, THE HOG'S BACK MYSTERY is currently available as part of the British Library Crime Classics reprint series. But I opted for the audio version narrated by the wonderful Gordon Griffin. For me, audio works just fine as an alternate. I listened to it a few days ago while in the middle of wrapping Christmas presents and other assorted holiday chores.
Croft was the grandfather of the police procedural mystery (at least that's how I think of him). He was also a proponent of the Golden Age detection strategy of 'play fair' with the reader (which never mattered to me, but I'm probably in the minority there) so in this particular book you should be able to figure out the killer unless your eyes glaze over from the minutiae of forming a perfect alibi. Near the end, I lost track of who was doing what to whom at what time and just agreed with Inspector's French's summation. I never did accept that such a finely tuned alibi would have worked in real life. But then, books aren't - necessarily - real life.
For me, the excruciatingly detailed split-second timing of the alibi was the only weakness in a nearly perfect procedural mystery. But then, I'm not numbers oriented so there is that to consider as well. You might have a totally different reaction.
Otherwise THE HOG'S BACK MYSTERY is a fascinating case - 10th in the Inspector French series - which begins with the confounding disappearance (seemingly into thin air) of a doctor from his study (while still in his house slippers) and culminates, all told, in the especially cold blooded murders of four people. An almost tangible underlying atmosphere of unease fairly clings to the pages of this book, but don't ask - I couldn't put my finger on any specific thing. There's just that sense of inexplicable menace which can be self-generating in a good mystery.
I don't want to give too much away because the rewarding part of this sort of story, besides the atmospherics, is the step by step, clue by clue, chapter by chapter mounting of the case by the indefatigable Inspector and his police cronies. If you love that sort of thing - as I do - then this is the book for you.
My rating: 4 Stars (Would have been five but for the ending.)
Since it's Friday, you will want to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.