Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Christopher St. John Sprigg, Death of an Airman

Christopher St. John Sprigg, Death of an Airman
British Library Crime Classics 2015 reprint of © 1934 original
ISBN 978-1-4642-0482-1

Another in the ongoing reprints of more-or-less forgotten authors and books.  I certainly had never heard of Sprigg before, and on the evidence of this book, I suspect I’d be interested in giving one or more of his 7 other mysteries a look--and it looks as if I'll be able to,  His Fatality In Fleet Street is available both in print and as an ebook.  (In his introduction to this volume, Marin Edwards notes that Sprigg wrote “a Marxist critique of poetry,” which was publiched posthumously.  (Sprigg died in the Spanish Civil War, in 1936, fighting for theRepublican forces.)

He also had a background in aviation, which certainly shows in this book, much of which takes place in a flying club somewhere in England.  The principal victim (ex-Major George Furnace)is a famous aviator who is working as an instructor at the Baston Aero Club; for no apparent reason, the plane he has taken up for a morning flight goes into a dive and spins into the ground.  An Anglican Bishop from Australia (Edwin Marriott) notices something odd about the corpse (Marriott having had a medical course to help prepare him for his rural Bishopric)—rigor mortis appears to have passed off extremely quickly (or else Furnace did not die when he apparently did).  And so an investigation into Furnace’s likely murder begins.

Sprigg has assembled an interesting cast of characters, including a local police Inspector (Creighton) and a Scotland Yard Inspector (Bray) who wind up working closely together to solve the mystery.  Creighton takes the case to Scotland Yard because, having discovered that Furnace had recently received large payments unrelated to his work, he also discovered that Furnace had taken a white powder to a local chemist for an analysis—and it was cocaine.

As Creughton and Bray pursue the investigation, the timing and cause of Furnace’s death become more mysterious, and the structure and operation of the cocaine  of the cocaine operation become increasingly central to their efforts.

This was, it appears, Sprigg’s second or third mystery(Edwards mentions two other titles, The Perfect Alibi and Crime In Kennsington, the latter of which was Sprigg’s first mystery).  As such, it has some rough spots, and the denouement is a bit perfunctory.  There are several very “stock” characters who don’t add much to the story, but the story is generally well told, and all the pieced are nicely fit together by the Inspectors.  The characterizations are not deep—no one stands out all that much—but it is an enjoyable book.

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