Dr James Earle and his wife live in comfortable seclusion near the Hog’s Back, a ridge in the North Downs in the beautiful Surrey countryside. When Dr Earle disappears from his cottage, Inspector French is called in to investigate. At first he suspects a simple domestic intrigue – and begins to uncover a web of romantic entanglements beneath the couple’s peaceful rural life.
The case soon takes a more complex turn. Other people vanish mysteriously, one of Dr Earle’s house guests among them. What is the explanation for the disappearances? If the missing people have been murdered, what can be the motive?
This is my second journey into reading Crofts, and I was pleasantly surprised. Antidote to Venom was written from the perspective of the murderer. We had all of the information, except for how the crime was actually pulled off. Most of the book is spent trailing after Inspector French while he figures it all out. It was a fabulous read!
In this book, Crofts takes an entirely different approach. We don't even know if a crime has been committed throughout most of the book. We have suspiciously missing people. We're given theory after theory for what could have happened. We follow French around while he questions people and gains facts. All the while, we're formulating our own theories from the information we're given. Amidst the second half of the book, things start to fall together. It's not until the last chapter that we're given any answers though.
The most interesting part of this book, from a writing aspect, is the fact that our point of view changes. We start off hearing the tale from Ursula, who is an innocent bystander. She's visiting friends in Hog's Back for two weeks. It's only when Inspector French arrives on the scene that we switch over and begin to see the story from his point of view. In most books, I would be really annoyed by this. It can create a distraction when your world is disrupted like that. In this book, Crofts has pulled it off seamlessly and it's brilliant. You realize the perspective has changed, but it only piques your curiosity further. Instead of distracting you from what's going on, it pulls you in deeper.
I was impressed by Crofts ability to engage me so deeply and stump me. I was partially right on the conclusion that I drew, but not fully. There were so many clues that I had missed! I was right there in Hog's Back, trudging through a misty thicket at sundown, trying to figure out what on earth was going on. The further the story goes, the more confused you become.
Crofts is a master. He can take a mystery and twist it, bend it, leave it gasping for air. What I'm learning is that he can do that from every angle, not just the front. No matter which part of the story we're given to work with (means, motive, opportunity, suspects), we're left feeling like amateurs in French's wake.
Though I was a fan of his writing before, I'm now a die-hard fan. Give me more!
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Shawn