W. A. DARLINGTON – Mr. Cronk’s Cases. Herbert Jenkins, UK, hardcover, 1933. No US edition.


   As someone who fancies himself a detective but bumbles through his cases, Mr. J .W. Cronk is the British equivalent of [Ellis Parker] Butler’s Philo Gubb, [George Barr] McCutcheon’s Anderson Crow, and [Percival] Wilde’s P. Moran. Although Cronk’s cases are not so mystifying as those of Gubb and Moran, his adventures are far more sensitively and sympathetically told.

   Crank’s youthful ambition had been to become a private detective, but he gradually settled down to a life as a lawyer’s clerk. In his 50s, however, two events combine to make him decide at long last to become a professional sleuth: an inheritance frees him from depending on a regular salary, and he overhears a typist describe him as “a little old dried-up stick.”

   His new career does not begin auspiciously: children follow him about as he investigates, and he mistakes an accident for murder. But in his second adventure, though, the criminal leads him around by the nose, he stumbles across stolen diamonds, and the Countess of Piecehurst praises him to her aristocratic friends.

   Soon he begins to get commissions. Unfortunately he continues to solve most of his cases purely by chance, but Scotland Yard thinks that his air of naive vagueness is a mask to fool criminals. Cronk is, in fact, not naive, and his knowledge that his success is not due to his abilities nags at him.

   In the final story, however, Cronk actually discovers, by investigation and reasoning, how a necklace disappeared from his old office. His former employer remarks: “Queer fellow you are, Cronk. Here you are, a detective who’s made himself a name… but to listen to you, one might think it was your very first case!” “Yes,” Cronk replies in the final line of the book, “you might, mightn’t you?”

   In short, unlike Gubb, Crow and Moran, Cronk is not merely a comic figure. We sympathize with his bumbling and we are pleased when he emerges as a real detective. (W. A. Darlington, the author of Mr. Cronk’s Cases, was a humorist who wrote a series of lively books about Private Alf Higgins, who in Alf’s Button discovers that the brass buttons on his uniform were made from Aladdin’s Lamp, and in Alf’s Carpet makes slippers from a Magic Carpet. Mr. Cronk’s Cases is more restrained than the Alf books.)

– Reprinted from The Poison Pen, Volume 6, Number 3 (Fall 1985). Permission granted by Doug Greene.


Bibliographic Note: The book, Darlington’s only entry in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, consists of nine untitled stories. There is only one copy currently offered for sale online, and luckily that seller provided an image of the cover, sans jacket.