RARA-AVIS: Crofts: The Purple Sickle Murders

From: K Montin ( kmontin@total.net)
Date: 15 Sep 2002

Freeman Wills Crofts: The Purple Sickle Murders (aka The Box Office Murders) (1923)

I don't think anyone would call this hardboiled, but it is a police procedural. It is mainly of interest as a period piece, being an early example of the detective inspector novel.

Two cinema cashiers are dead. Coincidence? Hardly. Several months later, another cinema cashier is missing. Fortunately, she has been forewarned and she is very resourceful. For example, she removes the screws from an overhead skylight using a coin she has sharpened on the hearth and tied in place in a pair of fire tongs as a screwdriver, while standing on a stool balanced on a bed--then replaces them!

This is possibly the most verbose novel I've ever read. Inspector French pursues his inquiries in an age when urgency didn't mean moving quite as fast as it does now. Everything is spelled out interminably. How the inspector cultivated his informants. What goes through his mind every inch of the way. All the steps in the detection process. The plot, which involves counterfeit coins, is rather unusual. There is a lot of technical information about minting coins, fluctuating prices of metals, tide tables and so on.

Here's an interesting commentary on the book: http://members.aol.com/MG4273/crofts.htm

Language note: I was surprised that at one point a sergeant says "okay."


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