Freeman Wills Crofts is regarded, amongst collectors, as a leading light of the
'Golden Age of Crime Fiction', although he probably remains anonymous
to a new generation of readers, unlike Christie and Sayers et al.
This is a shame, as Crofts was a key pioneer of the genre. In fact, his main series character,
Inspector French, is widely credited as being the first series police officer to feature
as the main investigative character. The penchant at the time being for amateur sleuths
such as Poirot, Marple and Wimsey etc with the police playing a more sedentary role.
Crofts was born in 1879 in Ireland, the son of a British army Doctor.
After a religious upbringing and education, Crofts went on to become
a railway engineer, a job he stuck with for most of his working life.
But it was not until recovering from a serious illness, in 1919, that Crofts dipped his
to the literary
pool that was to become the 'Golden Age of Crime Fiction'.
The result was his first, and arguably best, novel The Cask. It was published
in 1920 by Collins and was an immediate success both at home and abroad. It was, and
still is, an important landmark book.
Crofts background, in railways and engineering, emerges frequently (too frequently for some)
throughout his books. His greatest strength is also his greatest weakness, depending on your point of
view. The great attention to detail, whilst admirable, can come at the expense of slightly
shallow or weak characters. That said, his books are well plotted and perfectly capture
the mood and essence of the period.
Inspector French did not make his first appearance until the fifth book, Inspector
French's Greatest Cases. It was published in 1925 by Collins and saw the beginning of
a 30 year run during which Crofts delivered a French novel every year.
Following another bout of illness, Crofts passed away in 1957 shortly after his final novel
Anything to Declare? was published by Hodder & Stoughton. Whilst Crofts may not have been
'literary' exponent of crime fiction, he was, and remains, an important and influential figure in
the development of crime fiction as we know it today.