“The worst mistake any investigator can make is to let his brain run away and play mental Badminton with fanciful theories.”
The Westhampton Hunt Ball is in full swing, “represent[ing] all that was select, some of what was superior, and most of what was supercilious in the county of Westhamptonshire.” There is an extra charge in the air this year, because the local bank has narrowly escaped a scandal that would have financially destroyed many of the revelers. As if that weren’t enough excitement, it’s even rumored that royalty is attending in disguise.
More than a year later, an unidentified woman is found dead in the dentist’s chair at a seaside resort, supposedly a suicide. Who is she? And what really happened at the Westhampton Ball?
After almost a century out of print, Brian Flynn’s first ten novels are finally available to readers, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Puzzle Doctor. So is Flynn worth the hype? Based on The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye, the answer is a resounding yes. It’s a classic tale of detection with enough twists and turns to satisfy the most discerning mystery lover.
Amateur detective Anthony Bathurst is engaged to carry out a delicate mission for the Crown Prince of Clorania, who is traveling under the pseudonym of “Mr. Lucius.” The prince has been indiscreet and a blackmailer is threatening to derail his upcoming wedding. He believes the incident can be traced back to last year’s hunt ball.
“What makes you so positive of the connection between the two things?” demanded Anthony, with strong curiosity.
Mr. Lucius shrugged his shoulders even more eloquently than before. Then he placed his two fingers upon where he imagined his heart to be. “I feel it here,” he explained—it was an un-English gesture, and to Mr. Bathurst, was far from satisfying.
Nevertheless, Bathurst agrees to take the case (but not until next Friday. He has stuff going on). Before his trip to Westhamptonshire, however, the death of an unknown woman draws him to the seaside instead. Several of the hunt ball’s attendees are conveniently on the spot. Bathurst begins to wonder whether his client may be right that something shady began on that long-ago night. “’What was it that had happened at the Hunt Ball at Westhampton in February of the previous year?’ Find the right answer to that, he argued to himself and he would go a long distance towards solving the entire mystery.”
Bathurst joins forces with the formidable Superintendent Bannister, one of Scotland Yard’s famous “big six,” to identify the dead woman and solve her murder. The identification is quite a process and it ends up raising more questions than it answers. While there are plenty of clues, each new piece of evidence seems to cancel out another. Flynn ably leads his readers down the garden path, including a whopping piece of misdirection that I completely fell for, along the way to a shocking conclusion.
“Can a man ever believe a woman with whom he has been in love?” the Crown Prince cries. Bathurst dismisses his outburst as continental melodrama, but the question of how far anybody can trust a loved one is very germane to solving the crime. The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye is an impressive introduction to an author whose work I look forward to exploring.
So, what is it like? Well, it’s one of the best mystery novels that I’ve read in a long time – the best Golden Age mystery, certainly. Flynn does a lovely job of playing the two sleuths against each other in an almost playful way, rather than an antagonistic one, which makes a pleasant change from the norm. Usually when presented with a new sleuth, we get the cliché of the new detective having to prove themselves so it makes a nice change.
Flynn offers his readers a delightfully meaty case to solve as not only are their two separate crimes, but the murder itself is further complicated by other issues, which I’ll leave as a surprise for eager readers to discover, when they of course go off and pre-order this book, (having finished reading my review first, naturally!) In some ways this story reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle, as the reader is readily given puzzle pieces, in the form of fairly played and in plain sight clues. Yet the trick is being able to put the jigsaw pieces together in the right order.
The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye is now available in paperback and ebook from Dean Street Press. Review copy courtesy of Dean Street Press.