Freeman Wills Croft was a writer of crime fiction mainly between the wars and wrote many novels which were very popular at the time. Most of these included his series detective Inspector French who is an intelligent man who wrestles with puzzles until he finds the solution – and this author is famous for the puzzles in his books which need to be solved before the murderer is uncovered. His novels are books of alibis, red herrings, timetables and clever timing.
The Hog’s Back Murder is set in rural Sussex and involves several households, each some distance apart (maps are a feature of his books too). The story starts by concentrating on the visit to the area of friends of the wife of Dr Earle who then visit acquaintances in the area. One evening a number of the characters are gathered at the home of Dr Earle for a meal when he steps outside for a moment and is never seen again. Inspector French is called into the case and has to uncover what has happened to the doctor and then what has happened to one of the guests who subsequently goes missing. Everyone is a suspect and everyone seems to have an alibi.
This book is highly enjoyable and the author creates a complex solution to his mystery which involves him supplying a timetable of movements to the reader to help us understand exactly what happened when. I didn’t trouble myself with trying to work out who the murderer was and just enjoyed the various interactions of the Inspector with the suspects and the way that he builds his case. I am pretty sure that, in real life, the complicated way in which the murder was committed and hidden is totally implausible but the story makes it believable whilst you are reading it. The book is also an insight into the social history of the time and how the middle classes live and that is also an interesting aspect of the story to a modern reader.
This is a traditional crime novel with yet another beautiful cover as it is part of the British Library’s series of classic crime novels.