The Case of the Monday Murders by Christopher Bush – a Confident and Clever Mystery

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Another Monday, another Murder? This 1936 novel, recently reprinted by Dean Street Press, is a complex tale of murder, publicity seeking and long held grudges. It depends on the characters of newspaper men in an age when all news, opinion and speculation had to be waited for, bought and eagerly read in papers all vying for the greatest impact and sales. Crime novels in this “Golden Age” of detective fiction were popular, and in a rather cheeky sideways reference to the Detection Club which celebrated the work of such greats as Dorothy L. Sayers, the “Murder League” is depicted as a dubious gang of writers churning out books to a pattern. The mainstay of this book, as with most of Bush’s detective writing, is the rich, educated and undoubtedly clever Ludovic Travers, but even he struggles with the challenges thrown up by the seemingly disparate deaths he investigates here. This is a novel of timing, false trails and red herrings, and a parrot who may well have more to say.

This novel opens with the opening in a busy newspaper office of a mysterious letter which promises to provide sensational copy for a few days. It mentions several unsolved murders, and draws attention to the fact that many of them were committed on a Monday. As in at least one of Bush’s previous books, a deadline for murder whets the fear of the reading public, and Travers is soon asked to write up at least one of the cases. It is not difficult to work out the author of the letter, and once again there is the concept of the ‘perfect’ murder, when ‘undesirables’ are killed with such attention to detail that the crime will forever remain unsolved. The suspicious death of such a man in Travers vicinity causes him to discover clues which show sophistication and forethought, but the question of a false trail means that for all his bluster and determination, Bush’s other detective, Inspector Wharton, is left to struggle with the unthinkable. Travers follows up such slim leads of information that it is perhaps easy to get muddled, but he does not do so alone as Norris is once more inspired to use his skills to follow up ideas which Palmer, the devoted servant, dredges up from memory. As in several of these books, while the police carefully exclude possibilities and provide the effort, it is Travers who risks all on a hunch, potentially costly and certainly bearing risk.

As always with the Travers novels, this is a masterfully plotted story of timing, suspense and deliberate confusion. Bush manages to introduce characters succinctly yet effectively who may have much to do with the murder of the day, but who may equally have little more than a window dressing role in the eventual explanations. Information is gathered from tenuous links going back for decades, yet much is to picked up from little details of voice, attitude, and the debris of everyday life. So much, so Cludo, but Bush’s real skill is in holding all the lines of enquiry in tension, while injecting a certain humour and understanding of life into the proceedings. For me, the downside of Bush’s novels is always the lack of meaningful women characters.  While few can create a Harriet Vane or even a Miss Marple, it is a shame that Bush seems to disregard women as very much subsidiary characters in a world of carefully nuanced and well drawn out male protagonists, with not even the rather clever Mrs Wharton been mentioned in this novel. Despite this, I continue to enjoy these books and was very grateful to receive a review copy of this reprinted and fast paced Travers books, and I look forward to following his adventures in many more books to come.

Having returned from a few days away in sunny Northumberland, and it was sunny everyday, I must report that I read several books and fought with difficult wifi. As I already had a few books to review, I will be spending a fair bit of time posting. The warm and dry weather was quite the revelation, and the people were as friendly as ever. Cogito Books in Hexham kept a signed book for me, and got three more in for me within 24 hours, Newcastle Waterstones tracked down both hardback books I was chasing, and the wonderful Barter Books provided a lovely pile of books! So, much reading to come! Anne and I spent most of a day in Barter Books, and I am pleased to say their food is still  wonderful…

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