As we approach the end of this year it is a pleasure to once again be asked to put forward a few nominations for what I consider to be my reprints of the year. Happily the first of my picks was particularly easy this year as among the titles this year was a book that I reviewed several years ago and have been eager to see others be able to get their hands on: Freeman Wills Crofts’ The End of Andrew Harrison.
There’s a lot I really love about this story but I think my interest in it started with learning it was one of just a couple of attempts from Crofts at writing an impossible crime. What particularly interests me about Crofts’ approach is that rather than trying to sustain an impossibility across an entire novel it is instead set up and broken down all in the course of about forty pages.
The problem here is a sealed and bolted cabin on board a boat. The only other entrance to the cabin is a porthole, helpfully pictured on the front of this reprint edition. When the body of Andrew Harrison, a prominent and wealthy man who had only just reappeared after inexplicably vanishing for a few days, is discovered inside that cabin it appears completely impossible that anyone could have gained entry.
Crofts’ series detective, Inspector French, is tasked with working out exactly what had happened and he does so in his typical, methodical fashion. It is this, rather than the situation itself, that makes this part of the book so compelling. Rather than dealing with an impossibility on a more conceptual level, French will break it apart through attention to detail and repeated, rigorous testing of his ideas.
It proves fascinating to read and is, for me, one of the highest points of Crofts’ writing. Those forty pages tell you everything you need to know about the character, the way he thinks and approaches solving a crime. I couldn’t work this one out myself, making the moment where he pieces it together all the more satisfying.
As excellent as that chapter is, it is just one piece – albeit a highlight – of a wider case. The question of whodunit is every bit as important as that of how the matter was done. It is a pleasure following French’s investigation as he pieces together the story of Harrison’s sudden disappearance and the timeline of the murder itself. The pacing of the case is superb with Crofts regularly introducing new discoveries that keep the reader from getting too far ahead of the meticulous detective. It is, in short, one of the most tightly plotted of all of the Crofts stories I have read.
I nominate The End of Andrew Harrison in part because of its quality as a book but also because I want to emphasize how much I have appreciated this run of reprints. While some Crofts titles have been easy to come across as cheap vintage reprints, others proved much trickier. This was one of those, in part perhaps because of that status as one of his few impossible crimes. From memory I paid somewhere around the $50 price for a battered copy of this and when I read it, I was frustrated that the higher price tag and lack of easy availability would keep others from picking it up themselves.
I am delighted therefore to see this return to print and finally be available for others to read and enjoy. I hope that even if you don’t vote for this (which, to be clear, you should), that you give this one a try. If you do, let me know what you make of it. I’m eager to read what others think of it!