Detective fiction writers like to play games with their readers, and authors of all kinds are apt to fret, once their books have been published, that they have not done enough work on their stories, and that a little more revision would have worked wonders. This first edition of Many a Slip by Freeman Wills Crofts, my entry this week in Patti Abbott's Forgotten Books series, is a rather pleasing example of both.
Crofts was one of the giants of detective fiction’s Golden Age, creator of Inspector French and master of plots hinging upon a seemingly unbreakable alibi. His most famous books were novels, but Many a Slip is a collection of short stories. In a prefatory note, he explains their genesis thus:
‘All of these little stories were originally published in the Evening Standard (of London). Owing to newspaper space limitations they were then little more than skeleton plots and I have now tried to give them some small covering of flesh.
They are murder tales, and in all of them the criminal makes a mistake which gives him away. In the game with the reader, he wins if he spots these before they are revealed and (so to speak) I do if he doesn’t.’
An appealing concept. But in my copy of the book, Crofts noted sadly in his own hand:
‘Now that I see these little tales in book form, I think they should have been further expanded, with some build up of the characters. Alas, that is now too late!
Freeman Wills Crofts
11th June 1955’
By the way, I’ve added this title to the Collecting Crime Fiction page on my website: there are more examples there of books and crime-related material that appeal to me.