The Grell Mystery
First published in the UK 1913 by Eveleigh Nash
324 pages in print
This edition Project Gutenberg
Frank Froest was Superintendent of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Metropolitan Police from 1906 to his retirement in 1912 (during which time he was Inspector Dew‘s superior officer). Wikipedia gives us the following contemporary description:
… short, thick-set, full-faced, Mr. Froest in uniform looked more like a Prussian field-marshal than anything else. Out of uniform (which he generally was) he was always immaculate in silk hat, patent leather boots, and carrying a carefully rolled umbrella.
He was apparently incredibly strong and could snap a sixpence ‘like a biscuit’. Froest wrote three crime novels, two in partnership with the journalist George Dilnot, a journalist. His first, The Grell Mystery, was apparently all his own work (although I have my suspicions about that).
The mystery concerns Robert Grell, ‘social idol, millionaire and diplomat, and winner of the greatest matrimonial prize in London’ and opens on the eve of his marriage to the lovely willowy Lady Eileen Meredith. He excuses himself from a few quiet drinks in his club (just like my stag do) to attend to some urgent business, but doesn’t come back, leaving his polite friend Sir Ralph Fairfield to explain his absence.
Next morning, Grell is found dead in his study. One of his servants saw a mysterious veiled lady visit him in the night. Another servant, a taciturn Russian, has vanished.
The case is handed to the magnificently named Heldon Foyle, of the Yard, who is unfazed by his early morning call to arms.
When a man has passed thirty years in the service of the Criminal Investigation Department at New Scotland Yard his nerves are pretty well shock-proof […] There were certain obvious things to be done at once. For, up to a point, the science of detection is merely a matter of routine.
Foyle is brisk, business-like, and master of the science of policing. The whole book is a puff-piece on behalf of Scotland Yard and modern detection – no point being a criminal with this lot around.
Get some of the servants to give you a description of him, and ‘phone it through to Flack at the Yard. Let him send it out as an ‘all station’ message, and get in touch with the railway stations. The chap can’t have got far. Detain on suspicion. No arrest. Hello, there’s the bell. That’s some of our people, I expect. All right, I’ll answer. You get on with that.
Taut efficiency all the way.
A successful detective, like a successful journalist, is a man who knows the value of specialists—who knows where to go for the information he wants.
And as I read, the conviction grew that (assuming Foyle is to some extent a self-portrait) Froest was a complete bastard. Honestly. Here are some examples.
Constable Waverley gets knocked out and kidnapped in the course of following a suspect, but manages to escape. Foyle tells hims off:
Foyle never forgot discipline, which is as necessary, or more necessary within limits, in a detective service as in any other specialised business. To have sympathised with Waverley would have been bad policy. He had been made to feel that he had blundered in some way, and the feeling with which he had entered the room, that he was a martyr to duty, had vanished in the conviction that he was simply a fool.
Constable Phillips is following a suspect in a taxi, but his taxi gets a flat tyre:
‘And don’t forget that if you miss people like that again, accident or no accident, there’ll be trouble.’
What a nice manager.
Apart from my doubts about Foyle/Froest, I like The Grell Mystery, but I have to say it is loooong.
The author poured everything into it: experiences of raiding gambling joints, arresting drunk American sharp-shooters in hotel bars, advising blackmailed husbands to meet with accidents (yes), irrelevant cases of forgery which only serve to show that you never know your luck, the recommended method of walking down an East End street. Some of the episodes have the feel of reminiscences written down by an interviewer – which adds strength to my suspicion that George Dilnot write the book.
However, the final quarter picks up the pace, and delivers a satisfying resolution to the story, which by the way is not altogether straightforward.
Unless our whole system of identification is wrong—and that is incredible—that man who lies dead there is not Robert Grell.
So who is the dead man, where is the real Grell, and who is hiding him? Luckily the Yard is up to the mystery.
Ontos [1915 review]: Scotland Yard, the source of more and better stories of mystery than have ever found their way into print, appears to good advantage. There is, as usual, a very wonderful inspector, who finally unsnarls the skein, and a young peeress who is described as the “most beautiful woman in three kingdoms,” adds pleasantly to the excitement.
Final destination: A keeper
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.