This is a 1939 Ludovic Travers mystery, with an interesting twist right from the start. A special holiday, a new sporting obsession, and a murder to investigate near the beginning of the book gives us the setting for a village mystery. This novel works so well because it has a limited pool of suspects, but it is part of Bush’s skill and confidence in his characters that it is far from a ticking off a list exercise; he enjoys teasing out motives, opportunities and most of all alibis in this complex yet satisfying murder mystery. The twentieth book in the series, we have seen novels where Travers has not done much actual detecting, through to this situation where it is by his agency a murder is thoroughly investigated partly to aid a new friend, and Wharton is brought in to give a fresh perspective to a troubling case.
When Travers arrives in Pettistone, he discovers that a notorious fraudster has also just arrived under a false name and beard on his release from prison. Travers is particularly interested in this new arrival as he helped to achieve a conviction in the original case, together with that of a business partner who may have been more sinned against than sinning. Coincidentally, but essential to the plot is the large number of significant residents of the village who have lost serious amounts of money to this fraudster, mainly advised by the interestingly named Mr. Guff – Wimble. The latter hosts an indignation meeting of those affected, including the Reverend Quench, Mr Strongman and Ammony. The younger generation of villagers have also been affected; Bob Quench, the Vicar’s son had to give up his university his friend Molly is also questioned early on. An actual murder together with a later hiding of the body means that Travers and his fellow investigators have two lots of alibis to crack, together with false clues, footprints and local agricultural knowledge. The overwhelming theme of this book is golf; all the suspects play on the same course, and Travers is forced to play rounds with some of the suspects in order to investigate. Wharton plays a minor role in this investigation and is a little annoying when he does appear, being an unknown quantity at best. Travers is forced to make use of the unique talents of another to press forward with the investigation, which he realises may have been a bad move, but his actions become more pressing as his own deadline for detection comes nearer.
This book, reprinted by Dean Street press and therefore easily available once more, is a substantial addition to the Travers mystery collection, and I was grateful to receive a copy. At last there is more involvement of women in the investigation, but it is still largely unwitting. Interesting elements of the laws of evidence emerge, as well as the usual amount of alibi breaking and investigation of timings. I enjoyed its even handed investigation of the facts, even the wrong ones, as well as the descriptions of the golf which regrettably I did not always appreciate, but were at least partly explained. This novel could be enjoyed as a standalone mystery, but it also marks a milestone in Travers’ own life, so those familiar with his setup will appreciate it more. He realises he is fallible as at least one of his actions seem to fail, but all will be well. As the wartime Travers’ mysteries have now been published, there is a great opportunity to untangle what he did next, as this book is an excellent springboard in the transition from peace to war.
The hot weather continues in this part of the world, so either a lot of reading is done because it is too warm to do much else, or little is done because the sunlight is too strong! Still, the bits of the garden not struggling in a drought is doing well; I will try and post some pictures sometime soon!