Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)
It’s been a few weeks since I last delved into the work of Christopher Bush. I had initially planned to go with Cut Throat (1932), but seeing that JJ was going to be reviewing that one tomorrow, I decided to go for this title instead. I don’t often take much notice of the dedications to books, the names of the dedicatees not meaning much to me, but Bush’s choice of dedication this time round, (to Anna Patterson with apologies for the lack of blood,) did make me pause. After all it does seem like the complete opposite of Christie’s later dedication to her Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938). Yet in many ways this is a book which ties into the mystery writing world and its proponents. Curtis Evans in his introduction to the DSP’s reprint presents an intriguing argument for Bush having attended a Detection Club dinner in 1935, a club to which he became a member in 1937. Not such a farfetched idea given that in this novel, published in 1936, Ferdinand Pole, the president of the Murder League, a fictional group of mystery writers, plays quite a prominent role in the plot. Though there is nothing reverential in Bush’s treatment of his crime writing organisation as he has Ludovic Travers refer to its’ members as ‘performing sea-lions’ and Pole is frequently shown as a satirical depiction of the self-promoting author – all of which Curtis describes as ‘puckishly meta.’
However Bush’s serial killer novel maximises the role of newspapers in his story and equally takes his plot in quite a different direction. The tale begins with Pole sending a provocative letter to the Evening Blazon, pointing out the number of unsolved murders since the war which have occurred on a Monday. He goes as far as postulating that maybe many or all were committed by one person. What makes this letter even more of a sensational piece of news is that on that very day, a Monday no less, an unpleasant ex-school teacher named T. P. Luffham has died falling down the stairs – an event which is soon to be revealed as murder by Travers. Travers then goes on to help the police with the case which soon expands in ways and directions, beyond their expectations. Paintings, a parrot and long hidden secrets all play their part in this mystery.
Given the type of mystery Travers and co have to solve their investigation does not always run along orthodox lines, some thinking outside of the box is definitely required, especially given the open nature of the group of suspects. However, whilst this might give readers alarm that this is a thriller, the solution to the crime and its culprit are fairly well clued, though of course such clues are only really noticed in retrospect. I had a hunch who did it, yet was never entirely sure until Travers revealed all at the end. The newspaper angle of the case is very well done in its detailing of how murders can be exploited by the press and equally how the press can used for the ends of others. This is a slightly shorter novel by Bush, yet I think the size matches the plot type and was overall an intriguing and entertaining read, with Pole and Travers being particularly interesting characters.
Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Journalist