Freeman Wills Crofts Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Freeman Wills Crofts’s twenty-eight novels featuring Inspector Joseph French are generally under the control of a third-person narrator, who allows the reader to share completely the actions and the thinking of the characters. Opting for the Wilkie Collins-Émile Gaboriau school of detective fiction as opposed to the C. Auguste Dupin-Sherlock Holmes super-sleuth school so popular before World War I, Crofts’s trademarks are meticulous planning by the criminal and the even more meticulous “alibi busting” by Inspector French. Crofts’s language is simple and straightforward, and his style is natural and unforced. He helped shape the subgenre that is known today as the psychological thriller.

The reader is informed from the outset of everything that French sees, does, and knows, and accompanies him step-by-step as French unravels the mystery. Some find Crofts’s method tedious, but fellow writers such as Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler have written warmly and admiringly of his craft. His appeal is to those who wish to be intellectually stimulated, not those seeking pure entertainment. His popularity in England and throughout Europe has been strong, but he has been less successful in the United States, where tastes run more toward the hard-boiled detective and urban violence. Crofts’s finely crafted plots seem to come naturally to a mind trained in mathematics and engineering.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Craig, Patricia, and Mary Cadogan. Introduction to Inspector French’s Greatest Case, by Freeman Wills Crofts. London: Hogarth, 1985. Survey of Crofts’s career and the character of Inspector French, occasioned by the re-issue of the inspector’s first adventure.

Haycraft, Howard, ed. The Art of the Mystery Story: A Collection of Critical Essays. Reprint. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1983. Massive compendium of essays exploring all aspects of the mystery writer’s craft. Provides context for understanding Crofts.

Roth, Marty. Foul and Fair Play: Reading Genre in Classic Detective Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. A post-structural analysis of the conventions of mystery and detective fiction. Examines 138 short stories and works from the 1840’s to the 1960’s. Makes only minimal reference to Crofts, but helps readers establish Crofts’s place among the writers of classic mysteries.

Routley, Erik. The Puritan Pleasures of the Detective Story: A Personal Monograph. London: Gollancz, 1972. Idiosyncratic but useful discussion of crime fiction in terms of nominally puritanical ideology. Sheds light on Crofts’s work.

Steinbrunner, Chris, and Otto Penzler, eds. Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection. Rev. ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988. Discusses Croft’s contribution to the development of the psychological thriller genre.