The Ladies of Locksley by Francis Vivian – a Dean Street Press Inspector Knollis mystery

The Ladies of Locksley by Francis Vivian



This 1953 novel is opened with two meetings which are unusual for a murder mystery.  Inspector Knollis, the police officer who will be investigating the knotty problems in this mystery, is meeting with a friend, Brother Ignatius. Their talk is not one of complete agreement, as Ignatius has strong feelings about investigation and judgement. The second meeting is of a Woman’s Club leaders , mainly Mrs Marion Cartland “the uncrowned squireen of the village…She was, of course, also chairman of the Women’s Club” , doesn’t let anyone forget it. Kathleen Morley is honorary secretary, quietly trying to assert her wishes against the wife of her husband’s business partner. This meeting is a carefully written and amusing picture of two women each trying to assert their authority in the selection of speakers to the Club. It introduces the idea of asking Sir Edmund Griffin, an eminent expert on crime, to give a talk. Both of these meetings seem to have little to do with the crime which emerges over the rest of the book. Dean Street Press have reprinted this novel by Vivian along with  some of his others, and it is a stunning portrait of a brilliantly constructed murder mystery with some unexpected twists and turns. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.


Many of the novels which featured in the Golden Age of Detection struggled to depict women in a truly realistic way, but even the minor female characters are brought to life in this novel. As Inspector Knollis carefully picks his way through the mystery of Roger Cartland’s murder, he takes care to look at many elements of the days that led to his death. A serious car accident seems the obvious cause of death when Cartland’s body is found in his damaged vehicle, but it soon transpires that he was poisoned before he even got into the car. This investigation goes beyond the strict confines of the local area, as it involves Cartland’s jewelry business, and his unusual relationship with Morley as the latter does work on valuable pieces. Knollis is frustrated by the needs and time taken to do painstaking forensic work, and instead does his own investigating which sometimes exceeds the strict rules of procedure. He uses intuition and a dogged determination to investigate the unlikely and the obscure to get to the truth. Brother Ignatius, being almost a voice of conscience and reason, makes appearances in the book which force another approach. 


This is a book which repays careful reading, because of the convoluted nature of the plot and the twists and turns which took me by surprise. Inspector Knollis is an attractive and undramatic detective, who does not bring his personal dramas to the investigation. He gets hungry and exhausted, and sometimes has doubts which make him a realistic investigator. Past crimes and holes in the defences of those he questions are patiently investigated and followed up; this is not a matter of brilliant leaps of knowledge but method and determination. Not that Knollis doesn’t make allowances for human weaknesses, he allows for individual reactions and decisions. This is a mature and clever novel, and a good choice for reprinting by the excellent Dean Street Press.    


This is one of the really interesting reprints of classic but little known crime novels that Dean Street Press have been producing over the last few years. I have had the opportunity to read several, but I am always keen to discover new authors. Another of their lines is the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint, which republishes women novelists of the mid twentieth century. I have particularly enjoyed these and will be hoping to read more at some point. I have even managed to cover some authors’ entire output reprinted by Furrowed Middlebrow, particularly those written during the Second World War. If I have made you want to find out more, why not check their website   where they have what I think is a truly mouth watering range of books, and a blog about the blitz spirit and life today.  If you follow twitter, you will discover that they always offer a free kindle book every week. Definitely worth more investigation!

The Singing Masons – An Inspector Knollis Mystery by Francis Vivian – bee-keeping and murder!

Image result for the singing masons Vivian


Bee – keeping is a complicated art. So is the detection of murder in 1950, during the last days of the Golden Age of crime writing. This elegantly written book combines information about bee – keeping in detail through the experience and explanation of Old Samuel Heatherington with the intuitive and detailed detection by Detective Inspector Gordon Knollis. Francis Vivian’s novel is at once a book of its time and a mystery which manages to be a detective story that has all the elements; a limited number of suspects, a satisfying mystery and vivid characters, each with their own motives and backstories. Set in a village which is the scene of wedding plans, a young couple’s dashed hopes and a thoroughly nasty young man, this is a steady murder mystery without gore and dramatic action, but which requires thought and careful deduction from the clues and suggestions carefully given in the narrative. While gossip and reputations become a necessary background for the careful compilation of a list of suspects, this is a time before instant communication and complicated forensic science when Shakespearean quotes are generally recognised and give a tile to this satisfying novel. One of ten books by Francis Vivian reprinted by Dean Street Press recently, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this intriguing book. 


The book begins with a swarm of bees on the move, setting the tone of a novel where the reader is greatly informed as to why bees move en masse and what to do if they are seen. Old Heatherington sets off in pursuit, pausing to enlist the help of a boy who in time will be sent to phone for Phil and Georgie Maynard. As he follows the swarm into a garden with a convenient hive, Heatherington reflects on the sad losses of the young couple, when their own attempts to earn money from hives was foiled by a fire.When they arrive he is pondering the unlikely sight of a bee hive sitting in the garden of a recently deceased lady who had angrily rejected his offer of such a thing from him, insulting him with the memorable phrase “So don’t keep on at me, you – you beekeeper!”. The house and garden represent a mystery, as the nephew that was meant to benefit from the woman’s will is missing. Georgie herself is a niece who was not meant to benefit from the contrary will, as she and her husband were expected to learn independence from such deprivation. When the swarm is removed from the hive, the site of the mysterious box is debated. Why is it in this garden, in a damp spot? Do the two paving slabs placed there give a clue to a well? It is only when they are moved that the body is found, the police summoned, and eventually Knolis and his new colleague, Inspector Osiah Wilson, are set on course in this “unusual” murder. Glamour photography, a detailed knowledge of bees and the dangers they can pose, together with careful alibi investigation will take the reader along on a mystery which satisfies on many levels.


This is the first  of Vivian’s novel I have read, but I would be interested to read more by this spirited and careful writer, and therefore am very pleased that he has been chosen to have so many of his novels reprinted by the excellent Dean Street Press.