Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Life of Crime 4: Francis John Whaley (1897-1977)

As part of my continuing commitment to classic English mystery, I give you Francis John Whaley!

As "F. J. Whaley," Francis John Whaley published nine detective novels between 1936 and 1941:

Reduction of Staff (1936) (a brilliant tile for a public school tale)
Trouble in College (1936) (set at Cambridge and available in a new edition on amazon and
Challenge to Murder (1937)
Southern Electric Murder (1938)
This Path Is Dangerous (1938) (I like this title too)
Swift Solution (1939)
The Mystery of Number Five (1940)
Death at Datchets (1941)
Enter a Spy (1941)

I only have five of these titles.  To my frustration I've never been able to locate Challenge to Murder, This Path Is Dangerous and Death at Datchets (Enter a Spy sounds like an espionage thriller, like The Mystery of Number Five, and is of less personal interest to me).  However, I'll look on the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.  I'll be reviewing Southern Electric Murder as Friday's Forgotten Book.

See the Hove Daily Photo blog photo copyright Liz Marley 2009
See Liz Marley's Knitting on the Green blog

So who was Francis John Whaley, detective novelist?  His birth and death years are given as 1897 and 1977.  My guess is that he was the same Francis John Whaley who was a son of Oswald Stanley Whaley, an Anglican minister born in 1856 in Kilburn, London.

Educated at Christ's College, Cambridge, Oswald Whaley served at Christ Church and Trinity Church in Hampstead, London before becoming Vicar of St. George's Church, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, where he served until 1936 (this church is now an arts center).

St. George's, Great Yarmouth

This Francis John Whaley had an elder brother, also named Oswald Stanley Whaley (1890-1915).  He was a great rugby player (a tradition in this family; see below) and, I believe, a Christ's College, Cambridge graduate like his father.  After graduation he was briefly a master at Lindley School at Higham-on-the-Hill, a village in Leicestershire, before enlisting in the army when England entered the Great War.  A 2nd Lieutenant, he was killed at Gallipoli in 1915.

This Francis John Whaley also served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Great War and in 1917 was cited "for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty."  Unlike his brother, he survived the war.  I assume at some point he attended Cambridge and played rugby.

The Whaley brothers' maternal uncle James Bevan (1856-1938) was an Anglican minister who, yes, attended Cambridge (St. John's this time) and played rugby. Bevan played at Cambridge and was the first Welsh international captain (which may mean more to some of you out there than it does to me--it gets him a Wikipedia entry, so it must be somewhat important!).

From what I have read of F. J. Whaley's books, they seem to frequently reflect the mindset of an English gentleman of the 1930s who attended a public school and Cambridge.

In Southern Electric Murder our key investigator is a well-educated and well-bred gentleman police sergeant assigned to a detective inspector with a considerable amount of class chips on his shoulder.  The two men have an interesting relationship, and the book is a splendidly detailed mystery, full of trains and times.  It's about the most Croftsian book I have read by an author other than Freeman Wills Crofts.

And, better yet, it has a very interestingly presented Jewish character and goes out of its way to condemn antisemitism.  Granted, the war with Germany was close at hand, but it's still a rather rare thing to see an author in the genre of this time and place addressing modern political matters so forthrightly.

So, stay with me, there will be more on this book tomorrow (and no rants--for now).

Note: there have been three other Life of Crime entries on this blog.  I will post links later (unfortunately the search box on the blog seems not to be working--at least not for me!)--TPT.


  1. I see from that Ostara has a P.O.D. and Kindle version of Whaley's "Trouble in College" - I presume it's part of that publishing house's series of Cambridge-oriented mysteries. I guess I'm going to have to add to by TBR list again. Sigh...

    1. What a fascinating world we live in today, where a small press specializes in mysteries devoted to Cambridge. Wonderful! More power to them!

  2. I have got the italian translation by Challenge to Reader: "I NUOVI GIALLI" N.4 - EDIZIONI ALPE MILANO, 1 luglio 1950.
    But still I did not read it.
    I sent you an email few days ago. Aren't you interested in what I wrote you?

    1. Hi Pietro,

      I don't see any email from you, otherwise I would have answered it. Why don't you resend it? Are you on Facebook, by the way? That's way a good way to get in touch with me as well, if we become friends there. You might like to join our Golden Age mystery discussion group too.

      I hope you will read Challenge to Murder and let us know what you think of it!

  3. Hello from England
    After WW2, Francis Whaley was a history teacher at BELMONT SCHOOL, Hassocks, England
    My website explores this:
    Home page:
    Francis Whaley:
    His life:

    I am particularly interested in obtaining a copy of his “Enter a Spy”

    Keep up the good work!
    Douglas Butler