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.