Freeman Wills Crofts

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Freeman Wills Crofts
Freemanwillscroft.jpg
Freeman Wills Crofts
Born (1879-06-01)1 June 1879
Dublin, Ireland
Died 11 April 1957(1957-04-11) (aged 77)
Worthing, West Sussex, United Kingdom
Occupation Civil Engineer, Novelist
Genre detective novel, murder mystery
Literary movement Golden Age of Detective Fiction
Notable works The 12:30 from Croydon, Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy

Freeman Wills Crofts (1 June 1879 – 11 April 1957) was an Irish mystery author during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

Birth and education[edit]

Crofts was born at 26 Waterloo Road, Dublin, Ireland. His father, also named Freeman Wills Crofts, was a surgeon-lieutenant in the Army Medical Service, but he died of fever in Honduras before the young Freeman Wills Crofts was born. His mother, née Celia Frances Wise, re-married the Venerable Jonathan Harding, Vicar of Gilford, County Down, and Archdeacon of Dromore, and Crofts was brought up in the Gilford vicarage. He attended Methodist College and Campbell College in Belfast. In 1912 he married Mary Bellas Canning, daughter of the manager of a local bank in Coleraine.

Engineering career[edit]

In 1896, at the age of seventeen, Crofts was apprenticed to his maternal uncle, Berkeley Deane Wise, who was chief engineer of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. In 1899 Crofts was appointed Junior Assistant on the construction of the Londonderry and Strabane Extension of the Donegal Railway. In 1900 he became District Engineer at Coleraine for the L.M.S. Northern Counties Committee at a salary of £100pa, living at 11 Lodge Road in the town.[1] In 1922 Crofts was promoted to Chief Assistant Engineer of the railway, based in Belfast. He lived at 'Grianon' in Jordanstown, a quiet village some 6 miles north of Belfast, where it was convenient for Crofts to travel by train each day to the railway's offices at York Road. One of the projects he worked on[2] was the design of the 'Bleach Green Viaduct' in Whiteabbey, close to his Jordanstown home. This was a significant 10 arch reinforced concrete viaduct approved in 1927 and completed in 1934. It carried a new loop line which eliminated the need for trains between Belfast and the north west to reverse at Greenisland. Croft continued his engineering career until 1929. In his last task as an engineer, he was commissioned by the Government of Northern Ireland to chair an inquiry into the Bann and Lough Neagh Drainage Scheme.[1]

Writing career[edit]

In 1919, during an absence from work due to a long illness, Crofts wrote his first novel, The Cask (1920), which established him as a new master of detective fiction. Crofts continued to write steadily, producing a book almost every year for thirty years, in addition to a number of short stories and plays.

He is best remembered for his favourite detective, Inspector Joseph French, who was introduced in his fifth book, Inspector French's Greatest Case (1924). Inspector French always set about unravelling each of the mysteries presented him in a workmanlike, exacting manner – this approach set him apart from most other fictional sleuths.

In 1929, he abandoned his railway engineering career and became a full-time writer. He settled in the village of Blackheath, near Guildford, in Surrey, and a number of his books are set in the Guildford area, including The Hog's Back Mystery (1933) and Crime at Guildford (1935). Many of his stories have a railway theme, and his particular interest in the apparently unbreakable alibi often focussed on the intricacies of railway timetables. At the end of his life, he and his wife moved to Worthing, Sussex in 1953, where they lived until his death in 1957, the year in which his last book was published.

Freeman Wills Crofts also wrote one religious book, The Four Gospels in One Story, several short stories, and short plays for the BBC.

Marriage, affiliations and other interests[edit]

In 1912 he wed Mary Bellas Canning, the daughter of John J.C. Canning of Coleraine, Ireland, bank manager. They had no children.

He was a member, with Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, of the Detection Club which met in Gerrard Street.

In 1939 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Crofts was not only a railway engineer and writer, but also an accomplished musician. He was organist and choirmaster in Killowen Parish Church, Coleraine, St Patrick's Church, Jordanstown and the parish church of St Martin's in Blackheath.[1]

Reputation[edit]

Crofts was esteemed, not only by his regular readers, but also by his fellow writers of the so-called Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Agatha Christie included parodies of Inspector French alongside Sherlock Holmes and her own Hercule Poirot in Partners in Crime (1929).

Raymond Chandler described him as "the soundest builder of them all when he doesn’t get too fancy" (in The Simple Art of Murder). His attention to detail and his concentration on the mechanics of detection makes him the forerunner of the "police procedural" school of crime fiction.

However, it has also given rise to a suggestion of a certain lack of flair – Julian Symons describing him as of "the humdrum school". This may explain why his name has not remained as familiar as other more colourful and imaginative Golden Age writers, although he had 15 books included in the Penguin Books "green" series of the best detective novels and 36 of his books were in print in paperback in 2000.

List of works[edit]

Novels[edit]

  • The Cask (1920)
  • The Ponson Case (1921)
  • The Pit-Prop Syndicate (1922)
  • The Groote Park Murder (1923)
  • Inspector French's Greatest Case (1924)
  • Inspector French and the Cheyne Mystery (1926) aka The Cheyne Mystery
  • Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy (1927) aka The Starvel Hollow Tragedy
  • The Sea Mystery (1928)
  • The Box Office Murders (1929) aka The Purple Sickle Murders
  • Sir John Magill's Last Journey (1930)
  • Mystery in the Channel (1931) aka Mystery in the English Channel
  • Sudden Death (1932)
  • Death on the Way (1932) aka Double Death
  • The Hog's Back Mystery (1933) aka The Strange Case of Dr. Earle
  • The 12:30 from Croydon (1934) aka Wilful and Premeditated
  • Mystery on Southampton Water (1934) aka Crime on the Solent
  • Crime at Guildford (1935) aka The Crime at Nornes
  • The Loss of the 'Jane Vosper' (1936)
  • Man Overboard! (1936) aka Cold-Blooded Murder
  • Found Floating (1937)
  • The End of Andrew Harrison (1938) aka The Futile Alibi
  • Antidote to Venom (1938)
  • Fatal Venture (1939) aka Tragedy in the Hollow
  • Golden Ashes (1940)
  • James Tarrant, Adventurer (1941) aka Circumstantial Evidence
  • The Losing Game (1941) aka A Losing Game
  • Fear Comes to Chalfont (1942)
  • The Affair at Little Wokeham (1943) aka Double Tragedy
  • Enemy Unseen (1945)
  • Death of a Train (1946)
  • Silence for the Murderer (1949)
  • French Strikes Oil (1951) aka Dark Journey
  • Anything to Declare? (1957)

Short Story Collections[edit]

  • Murderers Make Mistakes (1947)
  • Many a Slip (1955)
  • Mystery of the Sleeping Car Express and Other Stories (1956)
    • "The Mystery of the Sleeping Car Express" (1921)
    • "Mr Pemberton's Commission"
    • "The Greuze" (Inspector French)
    • "The Level Crossing" (1933)
    • "East Wind" (Inspector French)
    • "The Parcel"
    • "The Motive Shows the Man"
    • "The Affair at Saltover Priory" (Inspector French)
    • "The Landing Ticket" (Inspector French)
    • "The Raincoat" (Inspector French)

Stage Plays[edit]

  • Inspector French
  • During the Night

Radio Plays[edit]

  • The Nine Fifty Up Express

Non-fiction[edit]

  • How to Write a Detective Novel
  • The Four Gospels in One Story: written as a modern biography

Anthologies containing stories by Freeman Wills Crofts[edit]

  • Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror 2nd Series (1931)
  • Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror 3rd Series (1934)
  • The Mystery Book (1934)
  • The Great Book of Thrillers (1935)
  • Fifty Famous Detectives of Fiction (1983)
  • The Scoop and Behind the Screen (1983) (Originally published in The Listener (1931) and (1930), both written by members of The Detection Club)
  • Great Irish Detective Stories edited by Peter Haining (1993)
  • "The Longman Anthology of Detective Fiction" (2004)

Lost Short Stories[edit]

These stories are known to have been published but no copies of the publications concerned are believed to exist today

  • "Nemesis", published in Round About [Guildford Round Table Christmas Annual, 1933]
  • "Who Killed Cock Robin?", published in St Martin's Review [date unknown]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c 'Who Was Freeman Wills Crofts', Derek Martin, The Bann Disc Vol 10, Coleraine Historical Society, October 2004.
  2. ^ Derek Martin's interview on BBC Radio Ulster's 'Your Place and Mine'

Sources[edit]

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

External links[edit]