Freeman Wills Crofts

AUTHOR GUIDE

Freeman Wills Crofts was one of the most popular writers of detective fiction in the 1920s and 1930s but fell out of the public attention in the decades that followed. Part of the reason for this is surely his dismissal as one of the ‘humdrum’ writers of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction – that is to say a writer who is focused more on the creation of puzzles than developing characters or rich themes in their crime fiction.

I do not think that label is particularly fair or helpful though I do think that Crofts’ plotting is his greatest attribute as a writer of mystery fiction. His stories usually contain an impressive amount of detail both in the commissioning of a crime and in its solution. I think it is also fair to say that his series detective, Inspector Joseph French, is not a character brimming with personality.

The biggest problem I have with the humdrum label is that it conveys a sense of formula which is simply not present in Crofts’ fiction. His style constantly evolves as he tries out new ideas. Take his four inverted mystery novels (The 12:30 From Croydon, Mystery on Southampton Water, Antidote to Venom and The Tragedy at Little Wokeham) – each feels quite distinctly plotted, finding different balances between the part of the story where we follow the criminal and those in which we follow the detective.

In addition to those four inverted stories, his work includes examples of thrillers, the more classic detective story and the locked room mystery. While I was slow to love him (as you will see in my notes about Antidote to Venom and The 12:30 From Croydon), I find I return to Inspector French again and again – he is my most frequently reviewed writer on this site – and I have only rarely been disappointed by the quality of his plots.

My strongest recommendation from the novels that have been reprinted so far would be The 12:30 From Croydon but if you ever come across an affordable The End of Andrew Harrison or The Affair at Little Wokeham (most likely under their US titles), do snap them up – they are excellent!

Note: One of the complications in trying to find copies of Crofts’ work is that the books were often published under separate titles in the UK and US. Where a book is currently out of print I have given both titles below but where a book has been recently reissued I am only using the UK title.

Standalones

The Cask (1920)
The Ponson Case (1921)
The Pit Prop Syndicate (1922)
The Groote Park murder (1923)
Murderers Make Mistakes (1947) – a short story collection
Mystery of the Sleeping Car Express and Other Stories (1956)

Inspector French

1924
Inspector French’s Greatest
Case
1926
The Cheyne Mystery
1927
The Starvel Hollow Tragedy
1928
The Sea Mystery
1929
The Box Office Murders
1930
Sir John Magill’s Last Journey
1931
Mystery in the Channel
1932
Sudden Death
1932
Death on the Way /
Double Death
1933
The Hog’s Back Mystery
1934
The 12:30 from Croydon
1934
Mystery on Southampton
Water / Crime on the Solent
1935
Crime at Guildford /
The Crime at Nornes
1936
The Loss of the ‘Jane Vosper’
1936
Man Overboard /
Cold-Blooded Murder
1937
Found Floating
1938
Antidote to Venom
1938
The End of Andrew Harrison / The Futile Alibi
1939
Fatal Venture /
Tragedy in the Hollow
1940
Golden Ashes
1941
James Tarrant, Adventurer /
Circumstantial Evidence
1941
A Losing Game
1942
Fear Comes to Chalfont
1943
The Affair at Little Wokeham / Double Tragedy
1945
Enemy Unseen
1946
Death of a Train
1949
Silence for the Murderer
1951
Dark Journey /
French Strikes Oil
1955
Many a Slip
1957
Anything to Declare?

Author portrait in header image by Bassano Ltd. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Used under Creative Commons 3.0 licence. This photograph has been slightly cropped.