The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye (Brian Flynn, 1928)

Brian Flynn may not have been the best mystery novelist but he’ll always hold a place in my heart for being the one who introduced me to the idea of reading for pleasure. Looking back at this blog, it seems that I read 41 books this year. I don’t boast — certainly, there are people who regularly read twice that number — but I think that child-me would be shocked.

This was a re-read, as every Brian Flynn book would be at this point. I considered reading the first of his that I ever picked up, Crime at the Crossways (1930), but I know the story too well and mysteries never hold up without the element of surprise. Peacock’s Eye I hadn’t revisited in decades and had almost completely forgotten, which is good as it’s got a hell of a twist ending.

Two crimes have been committed that may or may not be related: the blackmailing of foreign prince in regards to a past fling that had been amicably settled but, if made public, would spell disaster for his present royal engagement; and the murder of a young woman whose late father had served in India and came home with a particularly valuable war trophy — a large blue emerald worth £20,000. Amateur detective Anthony Bathurst tags along with Chief-Inspector Bannister of Scotland Yard to solve the puzzle.

With mystery novels, you’ve got your Christie-style who-dun-its and Rinehart-style had-I-but-knowns. Flynn is more Rinehart than Christie, but his style is fairly distinctive on its own. There’s generally a mistake near the beginning that the characters make and the reader is invited to make as well. This confounds solution, as any attempt to follow the clues that spring from it are necessarily predicated on a false premise. It isn’t until that initial mistake is re-evaluated that the puzzle pieces begin to fall into place.

Peacock’s Eye
‘s is no exception. It all hinges on the stranger at the Hunt Ball whose true identity everyone seems to know, but do they really? Of course, the man’s name is only the start. The clues must be followed from there to the conclusion. I confess that I failed, but I will admitted that this is a solvable book, although it’s made deucedly difficult by Flynn withholding the most damning evidence until the reveal at the end and leaving the reader only with the less definite points.

If I might give a slight hint (not really a hint at all — it’s there in the text, I only call attention to it): What is the plural of iris? There aren’t many English-speakers so pedantic that they insist on the Greek plural irides. Who do we know who speaks affectedly?

Inscription: Carelessly signed P. Smith in pencil on the inside front cover.

Film Folk (Rob Wagner, 1918)

I’m uncertain whether to call this book fiction or nonfiction. It’s a collection of anecdotes about filmmaking in the silent era written in narrative form from the perspective of a star, an extra, a director, a writer, and a publicist. The names and places are admittedly fictionalized, but often only just. It takes very little to connect the book’s “Jackson X. Kerriman” to the real Jack W. Kerrigan, for example. The studios as well — there are fairly transparent references to shooting jungle adventures at Selig or slapstick comedies at Keystone. I imagine the stories are punched-up, so to speak, and reimagined as though they were all coming from the same source, but that they’re ultimately based in somebody’s real experiences.

Inscription: Pasted on the inside front cover is a plate that reads “Brainerd Memorial Library, Haddam, Connecticut, No. 114, July 17, 1918”. Beneath it is carefully written “In memory of Martha E. Brainerd”.

The Last Days of Pompeii (Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1834)

In ancient Pompeii, Glaucus, a young Athenian man, falls in love with Ione, a Greek woman. However, her guardian, the Egyptian astrologer Arbaces, has long intended to claim her for his own wife. When her brother Apaecides, formerly a priest of Isis, converts to the new religion of the Nazarenes and threatens to reveal the Egyptian mysteries, Arbaces sees his chance. He kills Apaecides and frames Glaucus for the murder, seeing him sentenced to death by lion in the arena.

Nydia, a blind slave, is also in love with Glaucus. As she has knowledge of Arbaces’s crime, he’s imprisoned her in his mansion. By the time she’s freed, Glaucus has already been served to the lion, but strangely, the starved beast makes no move to attack him. The superstitious crowd takes this as proof of Glaucus’s innocence and turns on Arbaces when he is accused. He would be thrown to the lion himself, but just then, Vesuvius, the long-dormant volcano, erupts.

The city collapses into chaos. The ash vomited into the sky completely blots out the sun and the people struggle in the dark to reach the sea. Glaucus and Ione are lost in the confusing maze of streets, but Nydia, who knows the city not by sight but by feel, leads them to safety. They board a ship and escape the volcano, but Nydia, realizing now that she’s lost Glaucus to Ione forever, leaps into the water and drowns herself.

Inscription: “Alice M. Bartlett, Nov. 1897, from Mr.+Mrs. Ross”, on the front flyleaf.