This is an author I have known about for a while now, but despite being quite prolific (writing over 60 novels), Bush nowadays is not always that easy to get a hold of. The book begins in a reassuringly Golden Age way with a map of the tale’s setting. However our narrator, Major Ludovic Travers, is determined to disconcert us on the opening page. Travers from what I can infer, is on leave from the army, recuperating from injuries he has sustained and he says he is giving himself a fortnight to write down on paper the facts of the case he has just been involved in and that at the end of this period he must make a decision, a decision which could lead to someone’s hanging. It’s not original but the hook is strong enough to reel me in.
The case begins with Travers going to his sister’s home in Cleavesham. Although recuperating he has been asked by his friend Superintendent Wharton to see if he can trace a face Wharton saw there last year, a face Wharton feels sure has some criminal past. It seems bit of an impossible task, a long shot. Yet very quickly Travers picks up the trail, except the trail ends in murder, murder of the man Travers was trying to trace. The case has a number of suspects, though most of the interest fixes on to Thora, the Chief Constables’ wife and our title’s platinum blonde – a choice of suspect I found quite intriguing. There is also still the mystery of why Wharton remembered the victim’s face, an answer which doesn’t appear until quite a while into the story.
So far so good right? And for most of the book it was indeed just that. It was well paced and there was plenty of evidence to consider. There is even a war themed component to the case as well which I liked. The reader is likely to interpret Thora correctly in the grand scheme of things but there still seems room for plenty of surprises and opportunity to re-evaluate some suspects. Travers is a good narrator on the whole, though he does seem to act pointlessly unfair towards the police at the start, withholding information for no other reason than to inflate his own ego and give him time to needle a suspect. This becomes a little irksome when his behaviour and attitudes concerning the ethics of detection turn hypocritical. Travers criticises Wharton’s handling of suspects, saying that, ‘I was afraid Wharton was going to indulge in one of those baitings in which I have known him fairly revel, but I loathe that kind of sadism…’ Yet the only person who actually baits and manipulates suspects is Travers. Thankfully this is only a minor aspect of the plot.
However unfortunately the final third, which slowly unfolds the solution is in a word – dire. Abysmal. Horrific. Infuriating and just plain annoying. Normally I am not very good at spotting inconsistencies or holes in the solution. Usually these pass me by. So if I do see them I do feel like they must be glaringly bad ones. Without giving any spoilers away, there is something Wharton should spot but doesn’t seem to and Travers suggests when he does he won’t do anything to rectify the error. Equally the moral framework Travers seems to work from is perplexing to say the least. It seems unethical and illegal and in a way which makes you want to thump him, rather than think how clever the author has been. And I think this last phrase sums up Bush’s predicament: he is trying to be too clever. The solution has twist upon twist but they are given so slowly that the reader firstly can see them coming, meaning they enter with a whimper rather than a bang and secondly some of the twists just seem far too ridiculous to take seriously. This is all the more annoying considering the type of opening the novel has. Expectations are raised but certainly not met.
So whilst this story started well and even had a good middle, the ending leaves a lot to be desired. I think Bush had the right idea but he just didn’t execute it very well when it came to the solution. Unsurprisingly this has affected my final rating. I think Bush could be an author to enjoy but perhaps not this book.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Blonde