Cut Throat (1932) by Christopher Bush

This is Bush’s seventh Ludovic Travers novel and is one with a backdrop that definitely reflect the times and it is great that Curtis Evans’ intro provides extra details on this. In a nutshell in 1931 British politics was still feeling the effects of the Great Depression and in this year which was to see a general election, two aristocratic men, who owned a number of British newspapers, made a concerted effort to promote their own political party, the Empire Free Trade Party and to oust Stanley Baldwin from the Tories. Not something which came to fruition but it finds its parallels in this novel, with the story beginning with two newspapers amalgamating into the Evening Record. Lord Zyon is the newspaper magnate who owns the papers and he has his own political crusade: work for all and his paper has the slogan, ‘free trade with a difference.’ Bush makes a few jibes at this throughout the book, principally by having characters point out how his closing of the Mercury newspaper through the amalgamation process led to a lot of jobs losses. Doesn’t look great for man who spouts the ideal of ending unemployment…

Background in place lets get to the action. Lord Zyon is having a rally to promote his cause, an event which Travers is advising on, meaning that he is there when Zyon receives the news that Sir William Griffith, seller of the Mercury, has promised to bring to his a rally a hamper full of evidence of illicit dumping, (which Evans helpfully defines as evidence of ‘predatory pricing of exports in international trade.’). The hamper will be sent to the venue, though Zyon quickly gets it brought to his home. Yet instead when the hamper arrives, Sir Griffith is found dead inside, his throat cut. Various evidence points the police in the direction of Griffith’s country cottage in Mulberton and this brings us in to contact with our cast of suspects: a lay about nephew who is an explorer, a financial secretary with an overly flirty wife, a chess playing vicar and a very looking up to no good butler. Travers along with Superintendent Wharton and Chief Inspector Norris get stuck into solving, what turns out to be a very complicated case…

Overall Thoughts

The solution to this mystery is a corker, with three very distinct layers, which enable the story to twist and turn in some unexpected ways. The first half of the novel is the strongest in my opinion. We have a great opening chapter set at an Odyssean club dinner, in which the setup for the case is concisely, yet interestingly teased out. The first half also sees the beginning of what becomes a very thorough and intricate investigation, yet it doesn’t drag as I think the characters who fill the investigation bring it to life. Bush also inserts two chapters into the narrative which are marked as short cuts, in which Wharton tackles a suspect head on to arrive at more of the truth in a quicker manner, hence the short cut. Yet it is intriguing how the first of these decidedly and darkly backfires, creating a pocket of poignancy in the tale. One of the reasons why this investigation comes across as very thorough is because it is dealing with breaking unbreakable alibis. In the first half of the story I think this issue is written with an engaging manner, but I felt in the second the story became drier in style, even throwing a mathematical equation into the mix. Suffice to say not feeling at my best, this way of solving the case didn’t work for me as well. The Croft vibe may not have aided this either. However, I know this approach to solving crime works for lots of other readers so my final rating needn’t put you off if you like following sleuths cracking seemingly perfect alibis. To end on a more solid positive note there is one scene, which I found quite funny in which Travers faces an ‘ordeal by flirtation,’ I’ll say no more…

Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)

Rating: 3.75/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Amateur sleuth


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