Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Croft (1931)

There are times, when life is busy, when a vintage literary mystery is the perfect bookish prescription. When I needed that prescription I picked up this book, and it was perfect.

It begins with a passenger ferry in the English channel, sailing from Newhaven to Dieppe. Captain Hewitt sees a yacht adrift, with a man lying motionless on the deck. He sends a small boarding party and they find that the man has been shot dead, as has another man they find in the cabin.

There is no sign of a murder weapon, or the murderer.

Another man arrives on a motor launch. He is John Patrick Nolan, and he had come to join two of his partners in Moxon’s General Securities on a business trip, to meet a French financier named Pasteur in Fécamp. He identifies the two dead men as Paul Moxon, chairman of the firm, and his vice-chairman, Sydney Deeping.

29967411Back in England the investigation falls to the Sussex Police, and to Inspector Joseph French of Scotland Yard.

It appeared that Moxon’s General Securities was on the verge of collapse: and that maybe the partners, unable to meet their obligations, were fleeing the country with £1.5 million pounds in cash that was missing from the company’s strong room.

The investigation would be complex. It took in many people involved with and affected by events at the failing finance house; detailed nautical calculations and timetables; and the serial numbers and whereabouts of the missing notes.

It wasn’t difficult to follow. I didn’t try to work too much out, but I enjoyed watching capable professionals doing their jobs; and following the investigation and all of different developments.

The plot was very well constructed.

The characters were drawn simply; just clearly enough to allow the story to move forward.

Many of the details if the story still resonate: particularly the business failure, the executives abdicating responsibility and absconding, and ordinary people suffering life-changing losses. Technology has changed, the figures have changed, but almost everything else would be exactly the same today.

I appreciated that many of those working on the investigation had genuine concern for the families of the dead men and for the many people affected by the collapse of Moxons.

There are many days when I would rather read a mystery with more complex characters, with a plot that held more surprises, and with a story that was a little more profound.

But on the day that I read this book it had exactly the right amount of mystery and real human interest to engage and to entertain.