Brian Flynn's The Horn (1934) is the fifteenth novel in the Anthony Bathurst series and, like The Triple Bite (1931), Flynn wrote it as an homage to his favorite mystery writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which took its cue from Doyle's most well-known short story, "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" (collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1892) – more than a hint of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). Flynn didn't merely wrote throwbacks to a previous, gas-lit era of the detective story. He upgraded the Doylean detective story to the standards of the Golden Age and The Horn is no different!
Kenriston, of Ilmington House, Whitton, is a young man with "an
open, sunny disposition" and
a personal horizon "innocent of the smallest cloud." Mark is engaged to be married to Imogen Halliwell, but, on the eve of his wedding, he told everyone following a dinner party that he was going to take a walk down to the village. And that was the last occasion on which he was seen.
Two months pass without any news, or leads, inthe case and Mark's sister, Juliet, is on the verge of getting married herself with the wedding only a fortnight away. Someone has begun to frighten and terrorize Juliet.
Juliet had been badly affected by her brother's disappearance and her doctor recommended plenty of sunshine and open air, which is why it was decided to move her to Mark's bedroom. Several times, Juliet was awakened during the night by "a curious pitter-patter of feet," or something rushing across her face, like "an animal of some kind" – shades of Stoke Moran and Dr. Roylott! Whatever it was, she caught a flash of it as it escaped through the open window. Juliet's nerves has also been shot to pieces by "a curious noise" heard outside Ilmington House during the early hours of the morning. The braying of a gigantic horn!
So Juliet's fiancé, Julian Skene, has good reasons to believe history about to repeat itself and turns to Anthony Bathurst for help.
Bathurst assumes the scanty disguise of Anthony Lotherington (his middle name), an author, who has taken residence at Samuel Fairbrother's The Rifleman Inn to take in the local color for his prospective book on Northumbrian superstitions. But he's immediately recognized by Juliet and Mark's aunt, Sophie St. Alary, who decides to take him into her confidence about a package Juliet had received. A package containing a watch, a knife, a pair of scissors and thirty-one gray buttons cut from a flannel suit that "the ill-fated Mark Kenriston had worn just before he had slipped over the earth's edge." And with it came a letter with three dates and a curious phrase, "seek the reversed apron." These are not the only clues and hints littering the place that range from a stolen hunting horn and horse racing (of course) to the personality of Marquis de Sade and a locked shed.
So as he pokes and probes the problem from all sides, the day of the wedding comes nearer and, before everything is said and done, two more people have disappeared.
As said above, Flynn paid tribute with The Horn to Conan Doyle and "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," but plotted like a detective story of its time and, considering the story centers on several disappearance, I suspect Doyle wasn't Flynn only inspiration – because The Horn bears some resemblance to Freeman Wills Crofts' The Hog's Back Mystery (1933). I know the gap between the two is a narrow one and it could be a case of parallel thinking, which took the same basic idea in two different directions, but it's telling that two of the disappearances, in each book, took place under somewhat similar circumstances. But, once again, Crofts and Flynn told two very different stories based on the same basic idea. Naturally, arrived at two very different conclusions.
while The Horn is written like a Victorian-era melodrama,
Flynn gave it a typically, 1930s plot with plenty of clues, some
misdirection and "a moderately respectable alibi." The
solution is ultimately a simple one, but it took me some time to put
everything together only to have briefly sand thrown in my eyes
towards the end. Something that would have been a bit of a cheat in
any other detective novel where it not for the theme of the story
that murder "as a pure expression of sadism is almost unknown."
And this case is the almost in that sentence. This is perhaps the
reason why the 2020 Dean
Street Press edition is the first time the book has been
reprinted in "in any form since its original publication."
The Horn ranks alongside Invisible Death (1929), The Orange Axe (1931) and The Edge of Terror (1932) as a solid Flynn novel wonderfully blending the detective story of Doyle's days with those from the 1930s. Flynn was criminally underrated during his lifetime and deserves a posthumous membership to the Detection Club!