The Man Who Didn’t Fly by Margo Bennett

What’s it all about?

A plane crashes into the Irish Sea triggering an investigation, because although four men had arranged to fly on this charter it appears that only three actually boarded the flight.

It isn’t clear who didn’t fly, and the only information that the police have are snatches of overheard conversation and the Wade family’s recollections of what happened in the few days before the trip; the Wades knew all of the men involved, you see.

The blurb poses some questions for us to consider:

  • who was the man who didn’t fly? (obviously)
  • what did he have to gain? (presumably by not flying)
  • would he commit such an explosive murder to get it? (presuming there actually is/was an it)

What did I think?

I kept on referring to this as the Man Who Wouldn’t Fly, picturing some traditional 1950s bloke stamping his foot and refusing to embark.

This is not that story.

What it is, is an odd little book. The structure is unusual, starting with the investigation then heading into the recollections of Hester and Prudence Wade and their father as if we were watching them living through it, and flipping back into the investigation and its conclusion.

It’s not entirely clear why the police are involved in this mystery at all because, despite the question raised about the crash, the suggestion that it was as the result of a deliberate act is a red herring.

It is all about identification, apparently:

After the accident comes the casualty list; deaths must be documented, and no man is allowed a death certificate without first dying for it

The puzzle is very interesting and (without giving away the end) is solved almost entirely through the application of logic rather than actual physical evidence. Reassuringly, there is actually a crime

The puzzle is very interesting and (without giving away the end) is solved almost entirely through the application of logic rather than actual physical evidence. Reassuringly, there is actually a crime – well, more than one – but the nature of that crime isn’t apparent until very late on, along with the identity of the criminal. So from that point of view the book worked well for me.

I was less enamoured with the characters (police officers aside; I particularly enjoyed the detective sergeant explaining various cultural references to his superior). The men are all unpleasant and/or deeply irritating to varying degrees and both the girls are hugely frustrating, especially Hester who made me roll my eyes on more than one occasion.

I made an allowance for Prudence as she’s a teenager and presumably doesn’t know any better.

To be fair this novel was published in 1955 so the stereotypes are current for the time, I suppose. What does stand out is the clever structure, which is very different to the classic mystery, but the fact that it is so unusual is what probably makes it a Marmite book.

Have you read this, and if so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments.

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