If You Lie Down With Dogs...

"Sometimes... I think that the War has had a bad effect on some of our young men."
- Colonel Marchbanks (Dorothy L. Sayers' The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, 1928) 
Annie Haynes' The Crow's Inn Tragedy (1927) is the third installment in a short-lived series of mystery novels, which marked the final appearance of Detective-Inspector Furnival, who previously helmed The Abbey Court Murder (1923) and The House in Charlton Crescent (1926), but he was given an early retirement in favor of Detective-Inspector William Stoddart – who burst on the scene in The Man with the Dark Beard (1928).

The Crow's Inn Tragedy can also be read as the end of the first phase of Haynes' career as a mystery novelist, which covered five standalones and the Furnival trilogy. After those seven detective stories, Haynes appended her bibliography with four additional titles about Detective-Inspector Stoddart and the last two were published posthumously. 

So the subject of today's blog-post is an overlooked, but important, milestone in the life and career of Haynes. Let's get started! 

One of the primary backdrops of the story is an old-fashioned, dingy and worn solicitor's office, located on the first floor of a corner house of Crow's Inn Square, which "evidently not had a coat of paint for years" and bare of any modern innovations or conveniences – making the place feel like a holdout from the late 19th century or early 1900s. It's in this "indescribable air of gloom" that the head of legal firm, Mr. Luke Bechcombe, receives his brother-in-law, Reverend James Collyer.

Occasionally, Mr. Bechcombe provides some of his clients with a special and discrete service: he disposes of their valuable stones and substitutes them with paste. As a rule, these clients consist of society women, who overdrawn on their allowance, but refuse to tell their affluent husbands that they raked up a debt that their pocket money can't cover. But now his brother-in-law wants to dispose of a valuable and precious family heirloom, the Collyer Cross. 

The emerald studded cross is a treasured and precious religious artifact, "gleaming with baleful, green fire," which the clergyman wants to convert in cash in order to payoff the debts incurred by his son, Tony. 

Tony Collyer served in the trenches of the First World War, but the war "played ruination with the young men just beginning life" and England, "the home of heroes," had "no use for her heroes now" – which is why his father does not want to be too hard on the boy. Rev. Collyer wants to give his son a clean start, because he has "an inducement now that he has never had before." Tony is, sort of, engaged to Mr. Bechcombe's secretary, Cecily Hoyle. 

However, Mr. Bechcombe has some bad news for his brother-in-law: the emeralds are a paste substitute and this is when an important plot-thread is introduced: Bechcombe tells there have been "as many jewels stolen in the past year in London" as "in twenty years previously." The suspected party in these thefts is a well-organized group of criminals, known as the Yellow Gang, who are headed by a figure referred to as the Yellow Dog. This plot-thread dangles inconspicuously in the background of the story and only takes the center-stage during the final chapters, but more on this gang-related plot-thread later. 

In the meantime, there's another problem requiring the attention of both the police and the reader: Mr. Bechcombe is strangled to death in his private office and his death is surrounded by questions. Why had his managing clerk, Mr. Amos Thompson, disappeared? Who was the lady who had left a white, expensive-looking glove at the scene of the crime? How is it possible that one of the witnesses, who eventually came forward, claimed to have spoken with the solicitor when the medical examiner said he was dead at that time? Detective-Inspector Furnival of the Yard, known in the force as "The Ferret," is placed on the case, but the inspector seems to be doomed to play second fiddle in every instance of his last recorded case. 

The questions surrounding the murder are easily answered, especially after the halfway mark of the book, but Furnival takes forever to catch up with the reader and Haynes' storytelling is far more memorable than the characterization of her policeman – a gray, colorless character who hardly stands out against the background of the plot. He's practically swallowed by it. Even his last opportunity to shine is stolen by Mr. John Steadman, a barrister and criminologist, who accompanies Furnival on his investigation as an amateur snoop, of sorts, and takes the lead in escaping from the Yellow Gang in the final chapters of the book. So the poor inspector is not given an opportunity to bow out as a hero. 

I suspect those final chapters, describing the showdown with the Yellow Gang, is not to everyone's taste, which tinges the story with Victorian-era sensationalism and have seen this sequence being compared to Agatha Christie's The Big Four (1927). However, I found these scenes to be far more reminiscent of Dorothy L. Sayers' "The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba," which can be found in Lord Peter Views the Body (1928).

Personally, I found these scenes to be mildly amusing, but they did turn a dark, moody whodunit (as easy as it may've been) into a gaudy thriller from an era that preceded the Golden Age. So not everyone might appreciate this last turn of events. 

On the whole, I feel somewhat divided about The Crow's Inn Tragedy: I liked Haynes storytelling and how the pall of the war hung over the story, but the plot hardly posed a challenge to the reader. And then there was the thriller-ish ending. The journey to the easily perceived and anticipated ending was much better than the eventual arrival there. So not exactly on the same level as the excellent The House in Charlton Crescent and The Crime at Tattenham Corner (1929), but it was a quick, fairly good read.

So far this lukewarm review. Hopefully, I'll have something really good again for the next one.


  1. Yes I had similar divided views on this one as well and the thrillerish bit at the end with the yellow gang didn't really work for me as the previous narrative didn't really prepare us for it.

    1. It's the ending that really brings the overall quality of the book down. The Yellow Gang should've been nothing more than a minor sub-plot.

  2. I find it slightly depressing when I finish up the best novels and leave the weaker entries for the last, so I'm glad I still have 'House on Charlton Crescent' left for Annie Haynes. I might give 'Crow's Inn Tragedy' a skip though.

    1. There's no law that requires completism when reading a series. Luckily, there are also her standalones to knock off the list. The Bungalow Mystery is reportedly a solid novel from the early years of the Golden Age and The Blue Diamond sounds like delightful throwback to the Doylean era of crime-fiction.