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Creator / Freeman Wills Crofts

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"Of all the jobs that fell to French, the investigation of the life, habits, and human relationships of a given individual was that which he found most tedious."
Sir John Magill's Last Journey

Freeman Wills Crofts (1879-1957) was the author of 35 detective novels, published between the 1920s and 1950s. At the time his sales figures were up there with Agatha Christie herself, but his books' hold on the public imagination hasn't lasted to anything like the same degree.

The lead detective in most of Crofts' books was Inspector French of Scotland Yard. In his day job Crofts was a civil engineer, and he applied the same attention to detail to the plots of his mysteries.

Mr Crofts' works provide examples of:

  • The Alibi: Almost a Creator Thumbprint; the detective nearly always has to break what appears to be an unimpeachable alibi, frequently with the aid of railway timetables. As Dorothy L. Sayers remarked, eventually the reader begins to suspect the person with the best alibi straight away. For example, in Mystery in the Channel, one suspect is ruled out of consideration because his launch couldn't have reached the scene of the crime at its maximum speed. He'd fitted an outboard motor to the launch, which he then threw overboard before the police examined the boat. Crofts eventually subverted this facet of his writing in Death on the Way. Inspector French proves that a suspect faked his alibi, and arrests him — but it turns out he wasn't the murderer, and faked the alibi only because he knew he couldn't prove his innocence.
  • Blackmail: The Cheyne Mystery and The Loss of the Jane Vosper both contain criminals who make a living by blackmail, quite separately from their involvement in the A-plots of the books. In The Starvel Tragedy Roper's blackmail is far more closely connected with the solution of the mystery.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Happens during the capture of the murderer in Mystery in the Channel. The man on the receiving end not only drops the gun, but loses his thumb.
  • Continuity Nod: In The Hog's Back Mystery, French's investigation takes him to a construction site on the Guildford bypass. He finds it more understandable thanks to his experience of the railway works in Death on the Way.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • The murder victims in Mystery in the Channel were financiers absconding with thousands of their customers' life savings.
    • The suspects in Crime at Guildford are the directors and officers of a failing jewellery business; the guilty men decided to steal the company's stock of precious stones before they had to be sold off to pay the creditors.
  • Crime Reconstruction: At the end of Sir John Magill's Last Journey, French reconstructs the journey in question, demonstrating how and when the victim was murdered.
  • Defiant Captive: Molly Moran in The Box Office Murders, after her kidnapping by the bad guys.
  • Enemy Civil War: At the end of The Cheyne Mystery, when French arrives he finds that the gang he was pursuing got into a quarrel about the distribution of the loot and pretty much wiped each other out.
  • Fair Play Mystery: Golden Ashes has a footnote at the point French has his Eureka Moment, stating that the reader now has all the facts to solve the mystery. The Hog's Back Mystery goes further: each clue in French's summation has a note showing the reader where they could have learned it.
  • Flat Character: As the page quote suggests, Crofts favoured plot at the expense of characterisation.
  • Insurance Fraud: The murderer's plot in Golden Ashes. The murder is only committed because the victim stumbled across evidence that would have exposed the fraud.
  • MacGyvering: After her kidnapping, Molly Moran is locked in an attic with no way out except a skylight that's screwed shut. With only the contents of the room she's in, she manages to create an improvised screwdriver to open the skylight, and paper aeroplanes to launch through it and call for help.
  • Most Writers Are Writers:
    • Betty Stanton in Golden Ashes is an aspiring novelist.
    • Marjorie Lawes in The Hog's Back Mystery writes "simple tales of the loves of earls and typists, turned out in bulk."
  • Plucky Girl: Molly Moran — it gets her into serious trouble when she can't resist doing a little investigating on her own account.
  • Police Procedural: Crofts' works, particularly The Loss of the Jane Vosper, are sometimes considered to be prototypes of the genre.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Had the gang in The Box Office Murders not taken to murdering the box-office girls whom they suspected knew too much about them, Scotland Yard would never have suspected their existence.
  • Satchel Switcheroo:
    • In The Cask — there are two casks, both of which started out containing similar groups of statuary. By the start of the book, one now contains a murdered body and gold sovereigns. The confusion is retrospective as the detectives try to work out which cask was where, when, and what it contained at the time.
    • Used on a far larger scale in The Loss of the Jane Vosper, where the villains perform a switcheroo on a consignment of 350 generators.
  • Schmuck Bait: In The Box Office Murders, French tells Molly Moran to avoid two areas of London where the criminal gang are known to be operating. This advice doesn't have the effect he hoped.
  • Shout-Out: In Sir John Magill's Last Journey, French tells a colleague to "use your grey cells, as that Belgian would say."
  • Smug Snake: The villain of Mystery in the Channel, who when cornered by French mocks him for taking so long to find him.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The story often begins with the point of view of the person who discovers the crime, then switches to Inspector French once he's called in. Some notable examples are:
    • The Cask: The first chapter is written from the point of view of the man who finds the body; the next two-thirds of the novel follow the police inspector investigating the crime and arresting the prime suspect; and in the last third, the protagonist is a private detective trying to disprove the police case.
    • The Cheyne Mystery: Maxwell Cheyne is the protagonist for over half of the book before he finally calls in Inspector French.
  • Taking You with Me: A couple of times the villain, facing arrest, attempts to kill both themself and Inspector French (one even pulls out a hand grenade).
  • Trapped by Gambling Debts: Crofts' villains are fond of this, usually luring their mark into a rigged game or series of games in the first place.

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