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The Spiked Lion by Brian Flynn: The Return on the Golden Age of Detective Fiction

August 30, 2020

I am offered lots of review copies to read every year, more than I’ll ever find the time to properly assess and review. So I have to be choosy, and there was something about The Spiked Lion by Brian Flynn that caught my eye. The Spiked Lion is one of a series of Brian Flynn novels being reissued by Dean Street Press. Flynn was a popular author during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction who never quite made the front rank. As Steve Barge argues in an excellent introduction to the novel, works by Flynn are rare, expensive and hard to find. How did this happen to such a prolific author (Flynn wrote over fifty books)? Alas, while we now have a fairly comprehensive bibliography of Flynn’s works there still seems to be substantial gaps in his biography. 

The Spiked Lion features Flynn’s favourite sleuth Anthony Bathurst, who was the hero of nearly all of Flynn’s prodigious literary output. A trio of murders have left Scotland Yard baffled. There appears to be no apparent connection between the three dead men, except their murders were bizarre. The third death is a classic locked room mystery and, unusually, Flynn gives the reader a glimpse of it happening, but he does so in a way that does not give anything away: ‘The murderer turned swiftly from the dead body and departed by the way he had come. He had accomplished the task he had set himself.’ The plot is convoluted but enjoyable nonsense best summed up by this synopsis: ‘How do the events link to the recently returned-from-apparent-death heir to the title of Lord Trensham? And what exactly is the spiked lion?’ While it’s fairly easy to spot the wrong-uns, you’ll have a devil of a time working out their motivation. Fortunately, the reader has Anthony Bathurst to do that for us.

To be clear, The Spiked Lion is not a perfect mystery. It’s entertaining, witty and clever but the final reveal was rather hokey. Perhaps this is a common problem with Locked Room mysteries. The solution is never as ingenious as the set-up. That said, this is never less than a delightful puzzle which I loved tackling. And I have a feeling, now that I have discovered his work, that the mysterious life of Brian Flynn is something I will keep coming back to.

Hats off to Dean Street Press!

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