Quick Review (read on for full review)
A fun and entertaining mystery from the Golden Age of crime writing. With plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. 5 / 5
Summary (from back of book)
George Furnace, flight instructor at Baston Aero Club, dies instantly when his plane crashes into the English countryside. People who knew him are baffled – Furnace was a first-rate pilot, and the plane was in perfect condition – and the inquest records a verdict of death by misadventure.
An Australian visitor to the aero club, Edwin Marriot, Bishop of Cootamundra, suspects that the true story is more complicated. Could this be a dramatic suicide – or even murder? Together with Inspector Bray of Scotland Yard, the intrepid bishop must uncover a cunning criminal scheme.
‘You’ve heard of Brownies, I suppose?’
‘A particularly repellent breed of Girl Guide, aren’t they? Whenever I review a public function they seem to creep in on it somehow toward the end. They must be the most accomplished gate-crashers in this country.’
(Death of an Airman by Christopher St John Sprigg, pg 92)
This was a very enjoyable read. On the whole, the story is fun and light-hearted in tone but certainly not silly. There is quite a bit of talk about planes and how they operate / fly but this is pertinent to the story. I even found that the technical details about flying didn’t read as dreary or heavy-going.
There are plenty of twists and turns as the story unfolds, keeping you guessing as to the solution of the mystery. I had a few ideas as I read along, but I was nowhere near certain until just before the reveal. The red herrings are cleverly woven into the story, so they don’t stand out as if a neon sign is flashing above them that reads “FALSE CLUE”. I can’t praise the writing of the story high enough. It was hard to put down, and I didn’t want to stop reading until I found out whodunnit.
The characters were great: some were eccentric, others terrible funny (I’m looking at you Lady Crumbles) and they were all believable and well-drawn. My favourite character was Sarah Sackbutt, the manager and secretary of the flying club, closely followed by the bishop.
I like how the evidence at the inquest was presented in the book. Instead of having the reader actually read the scene at the inquest, we were given each statement that was delivered, followed by the jury’s verdict. This made the information easily accessible as well as offering a glimpse of the personalities of the major characters without slowing the pace of the storytelling.
It’s terribly sad that the author died so young and we only have a handful of his novels. If they are half as good as Death of an Airman, they will be brilliant, and I’m looking forward to reading them.
Highly recommended to fans of Golden Age crime writing.