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George Surridge, director of the Birmington Zoo, is a man with many worries: his marriage is collapsing; his finances are insecure; and an outbreak of disease threatens the animals in his care. As Surridge's debts mount and the pressure on him increases, he begins to dream of miracle solutions. But is he cunning enough to turn his dreams into reality - and could he commit the most devious murder in pursuit of his goals? This ingenious crime novel, with its unusual 'inverted' structure and sympathetic portrait of a man on the edge, is one of the greatest works by this highly respected author.
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Freeman Wills Crofts was born in Dublin in 1879 and died in 1957. He worked for a Northern Irish railway company as an engineer until 1929, before turning to detective fiction His plots reveal his mathematical training and he specialised in the seemingly unbreakable alibi, laying layer upon layer within his stories. He loved ships and trains and the intricacies of transport timetables feature in many of his stories. Crofts’ best-known character is Inspector Joseph French. French appears for the first time in Inspector French’s Greatest Case. He is a detective who achieves his results through dogged persistence.
Raymond Chandler praised Crofts’ plots, calling him ‘the soundest builder of them all’Review:
"This wonderfully intricate puzzle by one of the foremost writers during the Golden Age of British crime fiction was first published in 1938 and has been re-issued as part of the British Library's Crime Classics series. Crofts introduced the "inverted mystery" structure here, in which the traditional whodunit is turned on its head, with the reader following the murderer through temptation and commission and then watching the detective (Crofts' continuing character, Inspector French) sort through the sparse clues. With Crofts at the helm, this makes for identification with the murderer and also excruciating suspense throughout. The action centers on George Surridge, a zoo director whose life is unraveling. Surridge has a miserable marriage, a gambling habit, and a new drain on his finances in the form of a woman he's fallen in love with. Crofts also presents us with a fascinating backdrop with the running of the zoo. The day-to-day operations (how many herrings are needed to feed a king penguin each day, for example) are given in precise detail, with a special emphasis on security arrangements for the reptile house, which figures prominently later on. While the murder plot and method are gasp-inducing, Crofts' depiction of a man sliding more and more into temptation is thrilling as well. Each chapter starts with the word venom connected to a path (as in family or office) through which this metaphorical poison can enter someone's life. Brilliant in construction and theme." (starred review) (Booklist)
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