The Case of the Counterfeit Colonel (1952) by Christopher Bush

The Dean Street Press have been steadily reprinting Bush’s novels, with today’s read being the 41st! So it is no mean feat that Curtis Evans, who writes the introductions for these reprints, still finds new things to talk about. I particularly enjoyed the thematic approach of this title’s introduction, as it considers the state of mystery fiction in the 1950s and Bush’s place in it.

The story begins at the Broad Street Detective Agency in London. Ludovic Travers, our series sleuth, is the figure head of the organisation, yet in the first chapter, due to the firm being short-handed, we see him interviewing a new client; a publisher named Henry Clandon. Henry wants the agency to trace the whereabouts of David Seeway, a man he has only seen twice in his life, and both occasions were during the last war when he was stationed in Sicily. David had rescued him from no man’s land where he was injured, and he also briefly visited him in hospital afterwards. Henry wishes to repay him for this. However, he has very little to go on. He believes David came from Bassingford and that he mentioned the name of another man called Archie Dibben. Traver is suitably intrigued and takes the case on himself. After a few dead ends Travers strikes gold, yet these early discoveries soon transform into even greater mysteries, as suspicious circumstances of the past begin to have violent eruptions in the present.

Overall Thoughts

Something that I have noticed from previous reads by this author, is that Bush is good at setting up an unusual mystery. With today’s read we get a suspicious commission from a client, which develops into an investigation which has a missing person element, cold case tones, present day murder and blackmail to boot! Early on the reader is intrigued to find out how everything joins up.

From the get go my little grey cells attempted to read into the most casual of information, convinced that it would unlock the mystery. In part this did help, as I clocked one aspect at the start. The only issue was, is that I assumed a different solution from it and looking back at the book there are several points which will draw the reader’s attention yet may suggest more than one interpretation. Though the reader does get to feel a little superior to Travers, as his tendency to approve of and endorse those he sees as his social equals, makes him blind to some very fishy behaviour.

Despite having read several of the Travers books, I have never really thought much about what he looks like, so I was interested by this extended description he gives of himself:

‘Most people can’t help a longer look, for I’m not the usual type. I’m pretty tall, for instance—six foot three in my socks—and my leanness makes me look taller. I’ve a long, Roman sort of hatchet face and my sight is so bad that I wear special lenses in immense hornrims. I have a back lock of hair that not even glue can flatten, and since it sticks out well behind my skull, it gives me the look of a secretary-bird.’

Misbehaving hair seems to be a common problem for sleuths of the era, as Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen also struggles in his department!

Regular readers of Bush’s work will be pleased to know that today’s story contains alibi breaking elements and has a thorough investigation which takes unexpected twists and turns. The at times more fractious relationship between Travers and Chief Superintendent Wharton also makes this an interesting read. The final solution is a pleasing mixture of things you can anticipate, and things which you won’t see coming.

Rating: 4/5

Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)

See also: The Puzzle Doctor and Nick at The Grandest Game have also reviewed this title.

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