Born in Dublin of English stock, Freeman Wills Croft was educated at Methodist and Campbell Colleges in Belfast and at age 17 he became a civil engineering pupil, apprenticed to his uncle, Berkeley D Wise who was the chief engineer of the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway (BNCR).
In 1899 he became a fully fledged railway engineer before becoming a district engineer and then chief assistant engineer for the BNCR.
He married in 1912, Mary Bellas Canning, a bank manager's daughter. His writing career began when he was recovering from a serious illness and his efforts were rewarded when his first novel 'The Cask' was accepted for publication by a London publishing house. Within two decades the book had sold 100,000 copies. Thereafter he continued to write in his spare time and produced a book a year through to 1929 when he was obliged to stop working through poor health.
When he and his wife moved to Guildford, England, he took up writing full time and not surprisingly many of his plots revolved around travel and transport, particularly transport timetables and many of them had a Guildford setting.
In retirement from engineering, as well as writing, he also pursued his other interests, music, in which he was an organist and conductor, gardening, carpentry and travel.
He wrote a mystery novel almost every year until his death and in addition he produced about 50 short stories, 30 radio plays for the BBC, a number of true crime works, a play, 'Sudden Death', a juvenile mystery, 'Young Robin Brand, Detective', and a religious work, 'The Four Gospels in One Story'.
His best known character is Inspector Joseph French, who featured in 30 detective novels between 1924 and 1957. And Raymond Chandler praised his plots, calling him "the soundest builder of them all".
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