The Affair at Little Wokeham by Freeman Wills Crofts

Crime writers are often indebted to a range of people who provide them with help in producing a readable novel. Time and again, over the years, professional police officers generously help us to avoid at least some mistakes in our account of the way their fictional counterparts operate. Freeman Wills Crofts was a railway engineer by profession, but he managed to convey an impression of authenticity in his long-running series of novels featuring Inspector Joseph French. The inscription of this first edition, to Superintendent Roberts, with “thanks for kind help”, identifies one of those experts who helped Crofts with his research.

The Affair at Little Wokeham (it’s the sort of title you wouldn’t get nowadays!) was published in 1943, but set in the years before the war. It is an “inverted mystery” of the kind popularised by R.Austin Freeman, whom Crofts much admired. One critic has described the book as a “morality tale”; French ranked it as one of his “best cases”. Little Wokeham is a fictionalised version of Blackheath, where Crofts lived.