I’ve been a fan of the British Library Crime Classics series for many years, whose purpose is to bring to modern readers long-forgotten classics or overlooked gems from the golden age of crime, generally thought to have been between the wars (although there are titles in the series from earlier and much later in time). This is a highly recommended collection of books, for those looking for something from a more sedate, bygone age of writing.
The 12.30 From Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts is an inverted murder. That is to say that it’s quite the opposite to a ‘whodunnit’, which is the standard fare of these kind of novels. In an inverted murder we know right from the start who the killer is, as often the story is told from the murderer’s point of view. The plot usually involves a degree of suspense, of a cat and mouse aspect to the investigation, and generally there is an element of psychology woven into the story. These are all fine qualities in crime fiction, and it often acts as a refreshing change to the more intricately-plotted yet bafflingly complex narratives of the whodunnit.
This particular novel details the financial troubles and romantic yearnings of Charles Swinburn, who one day decides that the answer to his problems is to murder a member of his family, in order to inherit a sum of money which will give him a future more hopeful than the bleak one it promises to be. We follow his plotting and the intricacies of how he commits the murder, and then see things very much from his viewpoint as the police investigation takes over and he comes under the scrutiny of Inspector French.
There is a great deal of suspense created by the format of the novel, and the pacing is well formed. There are a few twists and turns. For a novel originally published in 1934 it is rather well-written and will definitely appeal to a modern reader, although the final two chapters are a bit heavy on exposition, as the detective explains the elements of the story that put him onto certain paths with the investigation. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful read, and adds another welcome credit to the Crime Classic series. As such, it comes recommended for aficionados of crime fiction from the golden age.