The Case of the 100% Alibis by Christopher Bush – An Impossible Crime?

The Case of the 100% Alibis: A Ludovic Travers Mystery by [Bush, Christopher]

The clue is definitely in the title of this book by the accomplished Golden Age Detection writer, Christopher Bush. The problem in essence that a murder has definitely been committed, there being no question of suicide or natural death. Yet everyone concerned “has the most beautiful twenty-two carat, diamond- studded alibi.” as one of the senior policeman investigating, George Wharton, publicly admits. Bush is a master of the impossible murder mystery, yet a respectable number of suspects can all prove that they were elsewhere at the time of the murder which can be pinpointed with unusual accuracy. This is not a case of a broken wristwatch indicating the time of death, a phone call summons the police to the scene of a fresh murder. Of course the redoubtable Ludovic Travers gets involved in this seemingly case of several suspects all being in full sight when the murder was committed; it is only using inspiration and that resolves this case of an unlikable victim whose murder seems destined to remain unsolved. This 1934 mystery, reprinted by Dean Street Press, is an always impressive display of coincidence, cunning and persistence which leaves no stone unturned as our detectives both professional and amateur are determined to find out exactly who committed a murder when no suspect was seemingly present.

Mr Lewton is dead. He is also a very unpopular man, a common thing in a victim dispatched in the opening chapter of a murder mystery. Thus the reader has little sympathy for someone whose own servant disliked him, who had business acquaintances rather than friends, who was noted for his flirtatious remarks to the doctor’s wife rather than genuine friendship. As Wharton, providentially on the scene when the report of the murder arrives soon discovers, there are several people who feared this man, whose interests were better served by his death than his remaining alive. Yet all of those who had motive were in public sight when the crime was committed, even the actor nephew whose financial circumstances were such as to require a timely inheritance. An inquest takes place, mainly in order to encourage a response and helpful leads from an eagerly interested public. It is only when Travers and his faithful manservant Palmer get involved that inspiration and dogged persistence win through.

This is a representative novel in the Ludovic Travers series, but it is definitely a standalone book. Fans of this author will sink happily into familiar characters pushing new barriers to get a result if not always complete justice. I was glad to see that Jane Wharton’s contribution is valued; if I have one complaint about these books it is their brushing aside female characters as mere plot devices. Here, however, Jane does contribute and her appreciation of detective novels as “very clever” sums up Bush’s novel well. This book makes use of an intriguing Prologue which serves both to drop a tantalising clue or two, as well as reintroducing the gentleman sleuth Ludovic Travers. It is an engaging book which features a crime that seems to defy detection but which eventually yields to studied investigation with inspiration. I was glad to receive this review copy and recommend it to all fans of the detection of ‘impossible’ crimes.

I have not posted so much as usual over the last week as I have been battling with an essay, but more excitingly, helping with wedding preparations! Making bunting for a marquee does take time, and I keep seeing triangles of fabric everywhere. Meanwhile Daughter and son in law to be are still working very hard so all hands on deck!

Dead Man’s Music – A Ludovic Travers Mystery by Christopher Bush

Dead Man's Music: A Ludovic Travers Mystery by [Bush, Christopher]

This sixth book in the Ludovic Travers series by Christopher Bush really hits its stride as a novel featuring the successful business author working on a case, albeit with the overall control of Superintendent Wharton and an invaluable contribution by Franklin. Originally published in 1931, this fast moving book presents riddles of music, recognition and international criminal activity. While Travers himself remains a little elusive, the mystery is a first class combination of unusual situations, clues and red herrings. Dean Street Press have reprinted another classic in this novel, and all lovers of solid, first class murder mysteries will enjoy reading this cleverly constructed book.

Ludovic Travers literally bumps into Wharton travelling to investigate a probable suicide, and when he goes to observe the case, he finds that he recognises the corpse as an eccentric man he visited in response to a request for a discerning man. The strange tale of his visit slots into his explanation of the case so far, and Wharton is persuaded that there is far more to investigate than first appeared. Claude Rook is recognised despite all attempts to disguise his body, and the music which Travers so enjoyed becomes a dominant theme in this novel. Some actual sheet music seems to represent something highly valuable, even if it seems to make no sense to the musicians consulted by Travers. The other mysterious character that Travers encounters and remains puzzled by is a housekeeper accorded far more privileges than usual to even a senior servant. Her silent communication may be an important clue, and her presence in another house raises even more questions. John Franklin’s involvement as usual involves risk and foreign travel; he seems to be the man of action compared with Travers’ flashes of inspiration. When combined with Wharton’s phenomenal memory for past cases, they are a formidable team and a fair result emerges.

It is always possible to see the influences of other Detection Club members in Bush’s writing; the original encounter with Wharton’s vehicle is very reminiscent of Lord Peter Wimsey’s accident in “The Nine Tailors”, and it seems as these novels proceed Palmer the manservant is echoing the faithful Bunter. Not that the Travers novels are copying Sayers standard works; the plot and the crime remain far more central and Bush was apparently not so likely to get waylaid by social and other speculation. This is strong novel of complicated but enjoyable plotting with some unexpected twists and interesting characters. Even minor characters are well drawn and contribute to a satisfying whole. I truly enjoyed this book, provided as ever by Dean Street Press for review, and look forward to following Travers, Franklin and Wharton in the new cases just released.

On Saturday I enjoyed a visit to Waterstones in Nottingham, where I spent far too long investigating the fiction section. Sadly two of the books on my list were unavailable, but I did get “Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves” by Rachel Malik. It looks to be very interesting!

Dead Man Twice -A Ludovic Travers Mystery by Christopher Bush

Image result for Dead Man Twice Bush

This is the third novel reprinted by Dean Street Press by Christopher Bush. Like the others, it is a “Ludovic Travers Mystery”, even though he does not take the lead in the detecting, but as a person of ideas and alternative intuitions he is as always invaluable. It perhaps flows less well than the super “A Perfect Murder Case”, but it introduces the reader to the fringes of a world of the gentleman boxer, his associates and friends, and is a compulsive read in terms of plotting and policing. As with the previous book, a lot of the legwork is done by the former policeman and impressive private detective, Franklin, but the inspiration for the satisfactory solution is from the inimitable Travers.

From the start of the book there is mystery. Travers spots an acquaintance in an unusual place, and is momentarily confused. He soon becomes aware of the latest great craze, a gentleman boxer called Michael France, whose star seems much in the ascendant with a public eager to witness his skills at first hand. The invaluable manservant, Palmer, supplies details, and Travers manages to discover something of the France phenomenon. Franklin is invited to join the Claires, France’s great friends by Hayles, and enjoys a convivial evening. His next contact with France is complicated and ultimately tragic, as a double death is discovered in confusing and misleading circumstances. As a senior policeman, Wharton, takes over the case, Franklin helps to disentangle a situation which is confused by alibis, undercover agents and heavy fog. Again the female characters tend to be less important than a more modern novelist would be expected to create, but the setting of the late 1920s was a different world of action and adventure.

Overall this is a strongly written yet subtly detailed novel, with hints and clues as well as a well-constructed plot. Franklin is brave but not foolhardy, Travers adds his intuition, and Wharton lends the gravitas of a seasoned, experienced senior policeman, able to interview everyone exceptionally well, as he finds the correct level of approach for the frightened, the defiant and the liar. False trails, suspicions and mysterious houses abound, as well as wealth and some jealousy. I must admit that I did not really understand the character of France, and I found his surname confusing, but his death (or double death) comes early in the novel and many pages are spent sorting out who he was with, his finances and suspicions. I was as ever impressed with the complex yet logical plot of this novel, and it is undoubtedly a strong book in this series of murder mysteries, rediscovered and reprinted by Dean Street Press, which I was glad to receive a copy of for review.

The Perfect Murder Case by Christopher Bush – A Classic Mystery

Image result for perfect murder case Bush

This second Ludovic Travers mystery has been hailed as one of the significant Golden Age murder mysteries and I was pleased to receive a review copy from Dean Street Press. It is an incredibly mystifying novel, with a seemingly unbreakable alibi, foreign travels and some double dealing with servants and a sought after will. It has everything, with the addition of a series of letters addressed to newspapers announcing a murder. Unlike Christie’s announced murder, there is a scarcity of detail for detectives both amateur and professional to go on when trying to be on the scene. Reassuringly women and children are to be excluded, but it adds to the detail of a complex but satisfying puzzle.

The murder, when it takes place, becomes the target of investigation by Scotland Yard detectives whose reputation is formidable. A businessman brings in an ex CID officer Franklin who is to launch a private detective agency on the basis of a high profile case. Ludovic Travers trades on a little nepotism to add his lateral thinking to the mystery, together with his Bunterish manservant, Palmer.  When the murder of the much disliked T.T Richleigh takes place, the scene is soon closely examined by all parties and the pursuit begins. While there is a clear motive, the alibis seem unbreakable as much rushing about must take place. Language traps are set, island hopping takes place, as tragedy is revealed. Franklin emerges a determined detective, risking life and limb in order to sort out the mystery. Travers’ contribution is small but significant as he has spotted possible connections from a seemingly irrelevant event. He is on track to become more involved in the mysteries dominating the public imagination, a progress which will take him through sixty more novels.

This is a confident novel for a second book, full of the little tricks of an established writer. A locked room and notes contributing to the solution abound, both confusing and eventually explained. The element that lifts this novel is the inclusion at the very start of two seemingly unrelated scenes, one domestic, one apparently spy related. It is only at the end when all is explained that the reader realises why they were included, and the tragic implications of their effects.

Altogether this is an enviable, assured piece of writing which has everything desirable in a murder mystery puzzle. The victim is unpopular, the crime more mechanical than tragic, the mystery is deep. Sayers called this a “workmanlike” novel, and it succeeds in being a compelling read. My one quibble is with Bush’s depiction of women as servants or perhaps objects of pity. His men are clever and inventive, questioning and intuitive, but the women do seem to just exist to further the story. Given the time of writing this is perhaps not surprising; in 1929 the fact that many popular writers were female did not mean that they featured heavily as detectives or strong characters. Bush was a talented, comprehensive writer who leaves no stone unturned in writing this, his most popular novel, not perhaps perfect but extremely entertaining.

I enjoyed reading this book, and it is definitely a classic of its type. Meanwhile I seem to be reading many books but not quite getting round to posting about them; my current M.A. is creeping up the agenda!

The Plumley Inheritance by Christopher Bush – A new Dean Street Press classic reprint

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The start of a new series of a detective novels is exciting, even when they were originally published in 1926. Dean Street Press have started to reprint the books of Christopher Bush, and they sent me number one to review, for which many thanks. The detective in question is Ludovic Travers, referred to in this novel as Ludo, but in this opening mystery the focus is on Geoffrey Wrentham. Both men have served with some distinction in the First World War, and Wrentham has just been demobilised, which leaves him both relived to be returning to his home village, but a little bewildered by events which seem to threaten his own money. The adventure that he embarks on is full of excitement and a little danger, alongside painstaking working out of clues, with some village characters thrown in. The mystery of the Plumley Inheritance is not easily solved, and keeps everyone guessing until the end.

Henry Plumley is a man with many investments and interests. His sudden, public collapse and subsequent death leave instability in the businesses he has run, and questions about what his final motives implied to those dependent on them like Wrentham. Ludo is eager to help, having worked for the dead man on a peculiar list of requirements which has puzzled him for months. Trying to decode this list together with subsequent mysterious events occupies Wrentham for much of the novel, and his recent war experiences lead him to risk all searching at night time for further clues. There is a suspicious death and guilty goings on, but the ending seems satisfactory. The setting of a country vicarage and a village means a limitation to the number of suspects, though Plumley’s several properties are a little confusingly named. The nearest phone is miles away and there are certainly no car chases, which probably reflects the lack of personal transport in 1919 quite realistically.

This book is not the confident work of a seasoned mystery writer but sheer enthusiasm and imagination make it a jolly read for anyone interested in early mystery stories. In many ways it is the story of a village, a man returned from war, and his attempts to rediscover his peacetime role. Apparently there are over sixty books in the series to come and I assume that Ludovic will take over the detecting as the character of Wrentham is not really strong enough to carry a series of tough assignments. (A quick check on the later books suggests that this is very much the case). Altogether the republishing of these books seems to promise a feast of challenging reads and enjoyable mysteries to come from an engaging writer.

In the face of Hurricane Brian I am going out tonight to take part in a concert…a Last Night of the Proms no less!  Apart from singing in the choir I am reading a section of “Bed Among the Lentils” by Alan Bennett, performed on tv by Maggie Smith. Literally a tough act to follow…