Antidote to Venom: A British Crime Classic (Inspector French #17)
By Freeman Wills Crofts
Rating: 4/5 Stairs
The British Crime Classics are reprints of classic crime novels, primarily from the “golden age” of British crime written in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Antidote to Venom was first published in 1938. This version contains a nice introduction from Martin Edwards with information about Mr. Crofts as well as the book you are about to read.
The central image of this novel is venom, both literal and metaphorical, and the final chapter delivers an explicit message about the ‘antidote’ to sin.
Martin Edwards, Introduction
This was an unusual caper in that we don’t see Inspector French until about two-thirds of the way through the book. Instead, we spend time with George Surridge. George is the director of the city zoo. He enjoys his work, but has an unhappy marriage. His money is adequate, but his wife likes to spend and George himself has some gambling debts.
He felt old and dispirited, did George Surridge, as he sat on in his study gazing morosely into the dying fire.
The story starts off slowly, establishing characters and settings before getting to the meat of the book. George strikes up an affair (I use that term loosely, they seem more of favorable companions), and his money situation gets worse. If only his sick aunt would finally pass away, his money troubles would be over! (You think you know where this plot point is going, but I assure you, George does not murder his sickly aunt.)
Trouble might be coming, but why go out to meet it?
By the time French enters the scene, the reader knows whodunit and why, but we aren’t sure how the murder was accomplished.
It was interesting to witness the breakdown of George from his guilt in the part that he played in the murder. Most mysteries are told solely from the perspective of the detective, and the reader misses out on this aspect. The novel was cleverly put together in that while the reader knows the identity of the murderer (and the accomplice), we don’t know how it was done. Mr. Crofts uses Inspector French’s perspective to work through that plot point mystery.
In the last chapter, Mr. Crofts hammers home what Mr. Edwards referred to in his introduction as the “‘antidote’ to sin.” His “antidote” seemed to come from left field, and (I felt) out of character with the rest of the story. But the ending was satisfying nonetheless.
While this is classic crime, it is definitely not your classic whodunit mystery. Mr. Crafts chooses to explore what caused the murder in the first place, and the aftermath of the accomplice in lieu of the investigation. It is much more of a character study and the effects of making morally wrong decisions than a mystery. I think it was very well done.
Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.