The Case of the Murdered Major by Christopher Bush – Ludovic Travers in the Army!

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Another Ludovic Travers Mystery, this time originally published in 1941, but this time the genial amateur detective is in a far different role. This book has recently been reprinted by Dean Street Press, and marks the first of Bush’s books set in and dealing with wartime experience. Featuring life in a closed community, and giving many details of military procedure, this is a fascinating insight into the claustrophobic conditions in a prisoner of war community at the outbreak of war, but more specifically giving an acute perspective on the human interactions which precipitated a fictional murder, and the deductions which allowed it to be solved. In a way a brilliant book about a man who upset many, this is also a technically clever book of mystery and motive.

Our hero, Ludovic Travers, has become a Captain and Adjutant, or second in command, at Prisoner of War camp somewhere in Britain. Based in an old hospital, there is plenty of room to manoeuvre for the British unit of soldiers who are to guard prisoners and the eventual consignment of German sailors and others dispatched to the site. It is a place apart with fences and guards, which is an ideal setting for a murder mystery as any and all suspects have to actually be on site. Internal alibis are one thing, but the net is drawn around those who have official business in the camp at the time in question. Travers is the ideal man for the job of military administration on which such a security based role is dependent, but there is a downside in the form of the Commandant with whom he is meant to work. Major Stirrop is a quixotic, infuriating, self obsessed man, full of his own audience, full of bluster and no leader. He maddens many of his officers by his frequent changes of mind, inefficiency and unfounded accusations of insubordination. On a personal level several have motives for murder, alongside a group of prisoners intent on escape and acts of disruption. Travers has to oversee difficulties with a variable number of prisoners when counted, mysterious comings and goings and sufficiently weaponry on site to create major problems. Add in some snow and tensions with senior military figures, and Travers has his hands full. It is only when a figure from his own past arrives to take control of the investigation that hope for a solution emerges.

In many ways this is quite a specialised mystery novel, with the intelligent use of the military framework with which Bush was very familiar. All is made clear, however, and the reader would be able to solve it without any real military knowledge, largely owing to the introduction of a civilian professional detective. Superintendent George Wharton makes a welcome character as he is not limited by military regulations, which force Travers into an observation role for much of the investigation. As could be expected, there is a shortage of female characters in this nearly exclusively male setting, but there is one woman to lend further confusion. This is a most impressive work of its type and era, labelled by Curtis Evans in his informative introduction as the first in a trilogy of wartime Travers books. Definitely worth tracking down as a murder mystery with many interesting side issues, and a fascinating piece of wartime fiction in any sense.

Meanwhile our second harvest supper went well, with Northernvicar doing the washing up! (Well, it was either that or barn dance). I spent a happy few hours at Meadowhall on Friday, which is a Northernreader friendly environment, and acquired a few new hardback fiction books. Now “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker is claiming my attention – a little different from the above!

The Case of the Leaning Man by Christopher Bush – A Distracted Travers Detecting…

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A fairly complex mystery featuring the theatrical world and some interesting observations on the love life of Bush’s highly successful amateur detective, Ludovic Travers. A novel of its time, this book was originally published in 1938 and has now been reprinted by Dean Street Press who generously sent me a copy. Unfortunately some of the attitudes to the victim make something of his race, but he is also shown as a thoroughly unlikable character. That said, this is a solid book with a case that is difficult to solve, and a good range of possible suspects, motives and possibilities. It marks the start of a new chapter of more than one life, as various kinds of natural justice must be served in this complex narrative.

Travers at the beginning of the book is at loose end. He is writing a book about murders, which is not entirely supported by his friend, George Wharton. He becomes distracted by the theatrical world, partly in the person of two sisters Bernice and Joy, as he tries to discover why they are refusing to talk to each other. Meanwhile, Wharton is summoned to investigate the murder of a Maharajah, who seems to have been surrounded by servants who disliked him. A mysterious man appears to have visited, which apparently coincides with the public death of a “Leaning man” who collapses against a wall. At the same time, the theatrical world is electrified by the return of an actor who has been semi retired for a while, as he performs a marathon number of trademark scenes. Expensive and exotic jewellery then seems to become important, as a London fog descends and conceals and confuses. Alibis, elderly priests and covert actions by Travers and others make this a complex tale of guesswork and compromise. Truth and justice are not always easy to reconcile in a book in which detection is not a straightforward process.

I found this book a challenging and enjoyable read, full of Travers’ usual lateral thinking in breaking or at least shaking alibis. The extra dimension of this particular novel in a multifaceted series is the problems that Travers faces in sorting out difficulties which have nothing to do with the murder mystery. Apparently there was some debate about the fictional male detectives popular at the time finding romance, as mystery fans did not always appreciate the distraction. While Dorothy L. Sayers made a virtue of creating another effective detective in the form of Harriet Vane, some romantic developments in the lives of favourite fictional detectives were seem in a negative light. Bush handles a distracted Travers well in this book, as he manages to maintain his concentration on detecting the crime here. This murder mystery sometimes seems as difficult to penetrate as the London fog, and perhaps the reader will be more than usually baffled at some points, but it is a sound novel in a series which seems to improve with each novel.

Meanwhile, I have hard a busy few days; a successful coffee morning, with well over forty people present, and a Big Book Sale, where we managed to take a lot of money for books for Book Aid. I have worked with some wonderful people who were brilliant at what they did, including tea making, cake cutting and book wrangling. Now for Harvest weekend…

The Case of the Green Felt Hat by Christopher Bush: Ludovic Travers investigates golf!

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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!

The Case of the Tudor Queen by Christopher Bush – Is Ludovic Travers beaten by this case?

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This book is the eighteenth Ludovic Travers Mystery, originally published in 1938, now reprinted by the excellent Dean Street Press, which means that this complex tale is very easy to obtain. As to be expected, this is a clever, complex murder mystery in which much is set up for the unwary, and for a large amount of the book the vital information for Travers’ breakthrough is missing. He is ever present, but this seems to be a double death without any certainties but a lot of dead ends. Travers, Wharton and the other investigators have certainly met their match in a case which threatens to defeat even their combined forces. This is a case with high drama, deliberate misdirection and haunting images, as well as a solution that is separate in time and space.

Travers and his ever faithful manservant, Palmer, are giving a lift to Superintendent George Wharton in “the Rolls” through the countryside when they come across a young woman walking along in strange circumstances. It turns out that she is a servant of an actress who has failed to turn up at her country cottage, along with her handyman who also appears to have disappeared. As the gentlemen drive into London in an effort to solve the puzzle of a woman who has left her immediate effects behind, they open up the town house to discover the body of Ward, the servant, in the kitchen clutching a glass.  A more graphic horror is to be found upstairs as the body of Mary Legreye is found in an eerie echo of her greatest role. Wharton attempts to charm, threaten and generally discover what all the contacts of the unfortunate pair have to say on their whereabouts at the time of the deaths. Could this be the case that defies the combined resources of Travers, Palmer, Wharton, Norris and Lewis? The solution is impossible to foresee, yet manages to be credible.

One of the most significant things about many of Bush’s Travers books is the breaking of alibis, and in this novel the alibi of everyone seems unbreakable.  This novel seems to represent defeat for the crime cracking team, and the solution is extremely elegant. I am still not convinced that Bush was an accurate writer of female characters, but this is a minor quibble with such a well written tale. Motoring enthusiasts may be intrigued by the details of this book, as well as Travers’ Rolls, and the clues which emerge are well managed gathering together so many seemingly mixed elements. The descriptions are as always well managed, combing a haunting image with more technical details well. As always it is difficult to write an effective review without giving too much away, but this is a book of its time in a sunny pre -war way, as well as being a mystery which has stood the test of time well.

The good news is that there is another ten of Christopher Bush novels being reprinted and made available through Dean Street Press on 2nd July. This brings the number available up to 30, and these novels are definitely addictive (you have been warned).  I am especially looking forward to this group as they are the wartime novels, and as readers of this blog will know I’m a great fan of novels written actually during the Second World War. (See the Angela Thirkell novels for example). Persephone Books have a box set of their six novels in this category, and they can easily be identified on their brilliant website here http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/grey-books-52/wwii/  (where they have more than six…). Happy reading to come!

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…

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!