The 12.30 From Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts – Review
By Sandra Callard
The British Library holds a huge amount of novels written and printed during the early twentieth century, and their Crime Classics collection contains some fascinating and often forgotten stories from this golden era of crime fiction. One of the latest to be republished, The 12.30 From Croydon, is a vastly interesting and unusual novel in that the murderer is known almost from the beginning, and the reader is party to the thoughts and machinations of the murderer-to-be.
This anomaly does not, in fact, relieve the story of any tension or surprise at the eventual outcome of the plot, but rather it is replaced with the question of whether, firstly, will he actually commit the murder, and secondly, if so, will he get away with it or will he pay the ultimate penalty.
Set in the 1930s the title refers, not to the bus or the train, but to an aeroplane leaving from an airfield in Croydon to fly to Paris, where a relative lies in hospital after an accident there. The death occurs in the plane on the outward journey to Paris and the victim is a wealthy and elderly member of the family, most of whom are on the plane with him. The murderer is not actually in the plane, so how can he be accused?
In revealing the name of the murderer so soon, and for the reader to be taken on the journey with him, is fascinating and somewhat scary, as the previously good living person evolves into a murderer. He lives so nearly on the edge of sanity during this time that the reader can find himself unwittingly carried along with him and hoping he will not get caught.
The reader is taken on every step of the tortuous plan as the build up to the murder is worked out and eventually proceeds, to be followed by the even more tortuous events of the aftermath of the actual event. Wills Croft writes in a beautifully fluid style and has the welcome talent of clear and explicit plotting. This results in a gratifying ease of comprehension of the story and a morbid but compelling look inside the brain of the murderer.
The clever and unexpected part the police play in the aftermath of the murder is terrific and carries the story to another level. The clever Inspector French, who was incidental to the cracking of the case, reveals how he picked up on all the clues that the murderer unknowingly left behind, offering an interesting and unusually adroit additional afterthought to the story. The court scenes in particular are brilliantly sourced, and the agonies of the accused as he waits for the verdict is especially effective.
Freeman Wills Croft was a popular and assiduous writer of mystery novels, The 12.30 From Croydon being his fifteenth publication. He was immensely successful in his time, and this particular story, albeit after almost ninety years, reads as fresh and interesting as when it was first published. Luckily there are many more books in the British Library of this ilk to read.
‘The 12.30 From Croydon’ by Freeman Wills Crofts is published by the British Library, £8.99 paperback