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.

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