Classic Crime

J.S. Fletcher

J.S. Fletcher (Joseph Smith Fletcher) was born in 1863 in Halifax, Yorkshire and was the son of a clergyman. Fletcher was a well-known journalist and is credited with writing more than two hundred books of both non-fiction and fiction. He was married to Rosamund Langbridge and they had one son. Fletcher turned his hand to writing detection with the short story collection ‘The Adventures of Archer Dawe’, published in 1909. It was with one of these short stories, ‘The Contents of the Coffin’ that Fletcher expanded and turned in to his first full length detective novel, ‘The Middle Temple Murder’.

Fletcher wrote about a hundred detective novels and is classed as one of the guiding lights in the ‘Golden Age’ of crime writing. His books and name are more or less forgotten and it is with celebration that Oleander Press have collaborated with Richard Reynolds from Heffers in Cambridge and have published this thrilling story from the mists of time to become the first in a series of London based detective stories under the title of ‘London Bound’ which will have places within London in the title. The second in the series is William Le Queux's thriller, 'The Doctor of Pimlico'.

Review: The Charing Cross Mystery

I have a great affection for crime from a different era. ‘The Charing Cross Mystery’ (aka ‘Black Money’) was first published in 1923. Unlike today’s standard there isn’t a great ‘sense of place’ in this novel but I gather that many writers of this era didn’t really think about telling future generations how it was to live in the 1920’s. I imagine that back then it was all about the puzzle. However, there are certainly pointers that show how simpler things were back then. It appears that everyone knew the train timetable off by heart as people simply didn’t race around in a pool car from police headquarters.

‘The Charing Cross Mystery’ borders on an adventure story for adults which must have been a pre-requisite for that time as Christie’s early work is very similar to this new re-issue. There is the large manor, the wealthy widow, a sinister foreigner who sounds remarkably like Poirot (or his evil twin, perhaps), the hero, the young heroine and all wrapped up in a murderous plot involving a nightclub of questionable repute, a scam ten years earlier and several dead corpses.

I greatly enjoyed this mystery and can see it being classed ninety years ago as a ‘solid good romp’ as our man, Heatherwick, (I’m not sure if I missed it but I am certain Fletcher doesn’t give him a Christian name) with Matherfield, a solid policeman if ever there was one, pursue the trail of a murderous conspiracy like a couple of determined bloodhounds.

I am not sure if it was the fashion back then, or if this is the author’s style (I cannot say as this is the first I have read of Fletcher’s) but there is a lot of action ‘off camera’ or ‘off stage’ and so Fletcher’s characters have to sit down and explain their actions to the reader. All explanations are prefaced with sentences like; ‘I’ll explain it like this…’ or ‘Let me tell it to you like this…’. To me, this slightly jarred but I had to remember that this book was ninety years old and thankfully we have come in leaps and bounds in the last fifty years that writers don’t have to explain things quite so simply to their readers!

I am always delighted to find a new author that I haven’t heard of whether contemporary or classic. This is a rip-roaring whodunit and I can see why Fletcher is held in high esteem for heading the Golden Age of crime. I look forward to seeing the other titles in the ‘London Bound’ series and believe that any means of discovering a forgotten name in crime fiction is always a good thing and I wish Oleander and Richard Reynolds all the success with this new series. I can’t wait for the next ‘London Bound’ edition!

Reviewed by: C.S.

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