Mystery on Southampton Water (1934) by Freeman Wills Crofts

A number of GAD authors could start a book with a board meeting but when the directors work for the Joymount Rapid Hardening Cement Manufacturing Company you know you’re reading Freeman Wills Crofts.

JRHCMC had been recovering from the Great Depression but now a close competitor, Chayle’s, is undercutting them and the future is bleak. Their chemical engineer, King, has analysed Chayle’s product and found that it contains an additional element. If he can identify how it is made then the firm may be able to save themselves from ruin.

King makes insufficient progress in his experiments and determines to gain the secret of the new process by illegal means and persuades Brand, the finance director, to help him, overcoming his argument that what he intends to do is plain theft by saying:

“And what about their stealing our jobs? They were doing quite well out of their concern. We were all making our living comfortably and satisfactorily. Then they see how they can make some more. Do they think about us? No, we may starve, so that they can double their share. What about that? Do you think it’s not legitimate to protect ourselves against that sort of thing?”

Their scheme does not go according to plan but after a bad night of unpleasant work they believe they have successfully covered their traces. Enter Chief Inspector Joseph French who will meticulously follow every lead until he brings his men to justice.

This is very much a morality play as we see the consequences for the weak Brand of one bad decision that leads inevitable to greater wrongdoing. The third quarter adds in an additional moral dimension from which none escape unscathed.

I haven’t read “Crime at Guildford” yet but of the other five recently reprinted French cases this is the top of the pile. It is a well structured inverted mystery which then throws a few curve balls at the reader in the second half. There was one aspect that I wasn’t happy with at the time but which was later satisfactorily explained.

Here’s hoping that HarperCollins treat us to another half-dozen Crofts’ sometime soon!



2 thoughts on “Mystery on Southampton Water (1934) by Freeman Wills Crofts”

  1. So excited to see you enjoyed this. I really appreciate that Crofts’ inverted stories are quite different from each other. I appreciate that with this one it isn’t exactly clear at first just who the victim will be – an interesting idea that I think Crofts handles well.


    1. ROT13 as spoilers: V yvxr ubj gur svefg cneg vf na vairegrq zlfgrel orsber zbivat bagb n frpbaq unys jurer vg vfa’g pyrne jub vf erfcbafvoyr sbe gur rkcybfvba. V fcbggrq gur bccbeghavgl sbe n hfr bs n erpbeqvat nyvov fgenvtugnjnl ohg qvq gura oryvrir gung vg jnf tbvat gb or Fnzfba jub qvq gur rkcybfvba, rfcrpvnyyl jura n gvzvat qrivpr unq orra ehyrq bhg. V dhvgr yvxrq gur vqrn bs univat gjb pbzcyrgryl frcnengr zheqref. Vs guvf unq orra Nagubal Orexryrl be fvzvyne, gura bar zheqre pbhyq unir orra erfbyirq, jvgu gur bgure orvat hafbyirq naq gur Wblzbhag ybg trggvat njnl jvgu vg. Ubjrire V pna’g vzntvar Pebsgf nyybjvat n xvyyre gb tb hachavfurq!


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