This is my first read from Bush, published after the end of WW2, but like Agatha Christie’s texts from the time, there is much to be learnt about post-war life: German POWs still being held on British soil and rationing are put two examples. The lens through which we see this world is tinged with a conservative nostalgia for the past and a dislike for current government practices, but I wouldn’t say that mars the book in any way.
Like other titles in the Ludovic Travers series, Bush begins his story with a gripping narrative hook. Amateur sleuth and unofficial advisor for Scotland Yard relays to Superintendent George Wharton an encounter he has had recently at his club, where a friend of a friend, Major Guy Pallart, has calmly admitted he is planning on committing a murder and has no intention of being caught for it. Was Pallart just joking? Or does he really mean it? Travers is sufficiently convinced he might have been serious, to the extent that he goes visiting in the area Pallart lives, in Essex, with a view to finding out more about him. Travers is keen to prevent the crime before it happens, yet what actually transpires is far from what he anticipates… Boating accidents, disappearances, secret lives and pasts, all play their part in muddying the waters for Travers.
Anthony Boucher, in his 1949 review of this book sums it up well:
‘Ludovic Travers, his star amateur sleuth, is in fine form here… there is one of those wonderfully intricate alibis… and it’s all told with the quiet skills, not devoid of humour which Bush has been developing in recent years.’
I definitely agree that Bush demonstrates a flair for telling a story well here. His use of the first person narrator is particularly subtle, as in comparison to some first person narratives I have read, it feels far more unobtrusive.
A key part of the enjoyment of these tales by Bush, is the dynamic set up between the Superintendent and Travers; the latter of whom asserts how they make such a good team:
‘George and I make a team of opposites. He is huge and lumbering with a back like a barn-end. I am six-foot three and lean at that […] George is reasonably patient and remorselessly inquiring; I persist in treating life more flippantly and am always on the look-out for short cuts and quick results.’
Furthermore, I would say their differences contribute a lot to the flow and readability of the narrative.
Set within the post war period, the author treats us to an interesting array of characters from a French chef and German POWs, to a ne’er-do-well nephew, as well as a number of war veterans; the latter group being one of the best delineated ones. Ludovic makes for an interesting lead and his conservative leanings are more amusing than anything else and in part I think he almost makes fun of himself when airing such sentiments: ‘I must I say I liked him, as far, that is, as a man of my generation and outmoded views can like one so much younger and virile than himself.’ Whilst in other instances this amusement takes on a bemused tinge for the reader, such as when characters regard playing in a dance band as a deplorable thing. Though, in fairness, they do admit that at least being in a band is one step up from being a crooner! Suffice to say Ludovic is no one’s fan of a crooner: ‘Someone asked for my opinion of crooners and I said I’d cheerfully witness their execution,’ though he does let slip that he likes some jazz.
Alibis form a central part of the ensuing murder investigation and I like how the narrative at times forewarns readers of impending conversations in which a vital clue will be issued. Given the complexity of the case Bush delivers to his readers, such hints are certainly helpful. The complexity of the puzzle, in the main, rests upon the how of the crime(s), as I think the ‘who’ of the case will partially be solved quite quickly by the reader. Yet I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing, as it is nice for the reader to have at least one part of the solution under their belt and there is plenty more for the reader to figure out. On a final note I thought the title for this book was especially effective, as it takes on quite an intriguing quality for most of the book. Readers new to Bush will be happy to know that they can dive into the series at any point and with the Dean Street Press’s sterling work in reprinting so many of his titles, (have they done them all yet?), such readers will have plenty of titles to pick from.
Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)
Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Set in a small village
See also: The Puzzle Doctor has also reviewed this title here.