The Pit Prop Syndicate by Freeman Wills Crofts

  from the back of book:

‘It seemed an innocent enough puzzle at first, a truck with one number plate when first seen, but another when seen a few hours later.  But Seymour Merriman and his friend, Claud Hilliard, soon become convinced that the Pit-Prop Syndicate is a front for some sort of illegal activity.  They just can’t figure out the what or how.  But when one of the members of the syndicate is found murdered in a taxi, it becomes a matter for the professional detectives of Scotland Yard who must solve the secret of The Pit-Prop Syndicate!’

This book was published in 1922. 

This is a mystery/thriller book. The main premise is figuring out the ‘puzzle’ of the number plate change and what the Syndicate is up to. The murder is thrown in at the half-way mark almost as an aside. The Syndicate is building and shipping pit props for mines in a remote section of forest in France and shipping them out via boat. We move on from there to England, where the boat delivers the props and picks up illegal cargo. Very technical and drawn out. Detail, detail, detail.

The first half of the book you have boating details, the two friends take a boating holiday as a cover to ‘stop’ by the sawmill and snoop around. Merriman of course falls in love immediately with the ‘owner’s’ daughter and thus has to rescue her from whatever is going on. We spend what seems like hours discussing what they could be doing, how they could be doing it, and who could be doing it as well as descriptions of how they tie up to the wharf, what kinds of trees are along the river, the description of Hilliard’s boat from top to bottom. Of course the two friends spy on the operation and put themselves in much danger without going to the police to save Madeline, until the murder. 

Now we have Scotland Yard investigating and more details, details, details! How the inspector hides and finds a secret phone line, the odd movings and lights going off and on at night on board. Descriptions in detail of all the out buildings and more theories and how to’s. Trains come into play towards the end of the book and the climax and chase to catch the murderer at last. Details of train cars, schedules, etc.  Lots of further-mores, secondlys and third points. The ‘facts’ of the case are laid out for us in detail at least 4 times!

Very intricate and well laid out plot with lots of mechanical ingenuity if you like that kind of thing, but very slow. Could have all been said in a novella instead of a novel. Not a lot of character development as the spotlight was on the mechanics of the story.

To quote a line from the book… reading this “the afternoon dragged slowly but not unpleasantly away,”. Hoping the next Crofts book I have lined up to read is a bit more intriguing!

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6 thoughts on “The Pit Prop Syndicate by Freeman Wills Crofts

  1. Yes it was slow and I think I said I almost gave up on it but then about half way through it perked up a wee bit when Scotland Yard got involved. He has certainly written better books. I think this one is available free on Project Gutenberg if anyone wants to have a go anyway.

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  2. This is a mystery for thinking people. It does drag for us, but remember that readers in 1922 may have wanted long reads. No TV, radio in its infancy, silent movies, etc. So Crofts had to write for his 1922 public.

    Dick Schaefer

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