Sir Clinton Driffield was the Chief Constable creation of J.J. Connington, the pen name of Alfred Walter Stewart, a renowned scientist who wrote during the Golden Age of Crime Fiction. Alongside his vast contributions to science, he became a renowned crime novelist and a member of the Detection Club, alongside such greats as Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime herself.
At his height Stewart, through his pseudonym, was a key player in the Golden Age and was epitomising the genre. Whilst his works were not the typical style of the era, without a dandyish, enigmatic detective, they came to symbolise the Golden Age’s reliance on the influence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels. Sir Clinton Driffield is a policeman, but he has a military-esq style of detective, and whilst he is less flamboyant than his more famous influence, his methods of deduction are based on science and facts, in a similar vein to Doyle’s detective.
Similarly, his friend and detective assistance Squire Wendover is a Watson counterpart. At times the landowner is quick thinking and has a deep understanding of human nature- at other times he is completely dense. Often blinded by his own sensibilities, he is a perfect foil to Stewart’s detective, and his presence often leads to many intriguing discoveries.
Following his death Stewart’s Sir Clinton Driffield novels went out of print, however today they can be bought through Orion’s Murder Room imprint, and you can also find some second hand editions online. As a result of being taken out of circulation for so long, the novels were not made into TV shows or films, or continued on through new authors continuing the series, and as such their popularity have dropped over the years.
It was whilst I was reviewing the brilliant Golden Age anthology Bodies From The Library that I first discovered Sir Clinton, and since then I’ve been tracking the novels down through the internet and some bookshop trawling, which was great fun. Now, I’d like to introduce you to my new favourite so that you can enjoy the tales of this astute and often mercenary police detective, so check out my top five books which will give you a great introduction.
5. The Four Defences: Many of Stewart’s Sir Clinton Driffield novels were based around real events, crimes or ideas, in this case a real life mystery often dubbed the ‘blazing car murder’. In the novel Driffield is confronted with an unidentified body found in a lighted car. A local man is missing, however the body has been cleverly staged to look like him, but is soon found to be a different man altogether. Now Driffield has two mysteries to solve and a variety of strange stories to untangle in his search for the truth.
4. Tragedy at Ravensthorpe: The second in the Sir Clinton Driffield series, Tragedy At Ravensthorpe is a country house mystery set in a secluded country manor where a masked ball leads to theft, murder and general mayhem. Family friend Sir Clinton Driffield seeks to help his old friends’ family and delve into the truth behind the various mysteries and restore order in his usual droll and methodical manner.
3. The Boathouse Riddle: When Wendover acquires a new boathouse he is keen to show his new toy off to his friend, Sir Clinton Driffield, who is on holiday to enjoy some fishing and see his old friend. The boathouse quickly becomes the scene of a baffling crime, and when another body is dredged up from the lake on which the boathouse is situated Sir Clinton and his friend have to untangle a sweeping web of lies and deceits. Fast-paced and enticing, the novel is a rich human drama that keeps the reader hooked until the final twist is revealed.
2. No Past Is Dead: After an unusual ceremony celebrating everything unlucky, the leader of the Thirteen Club is found brutally killed in suspicious circumstances, which involves being shot, mauled by a cheetah and having his throat slit. Sir Clinton and his companion Squire Wendover are joined by a journalist pal, who was present at the dinner to untangle the knotted web of lies and deceits that made up the victim’s life to find out why he died. A second murder swiftly follows the first, putting the Chief Constable at the centre of a fiendish mystery.
1. Murder In The Maze: Praised by no less than T.S. Eliot himself, the first book to feature Sir Clinton Driffield is a startling piece of detective fiction. As regular readers will know, I am a firm believer that the first book in any series is, more often than not, the best place to start, and in this case Murder In The Maze is an ideal introduction. Faced with double murder committed by poisoned darts in the heart of a maze at a country manor house, Driffield must use all his detective skill to draw out the devilish culprit before they strike again.