Dancing Death by Christopher Bush

A country house party at Christmas time in the Golden Age, so as you might expect a) the house is surrounded by deep, deep snow, b) one of the guests is an amateur detective and c) someone is about to get murdered.

The house in question is Levington Hall, the host one Martin Braishe, a government scientist who has invented a special, rather lethal, gas. But during a fancy-dress ball, it isn’t gas that kills one of the party, it’s a good old-fashioned dagger through the heart. As another guest drops dead of a “heart attack” – yeah, right – it seems that a killer is on the prowl. But it’s going to take at least one more death before Ludovic Travers, Bush’s series sleuth, can get to the bottom of things.

This is my second encounter with the work of Christopher Bush, the first being The Case Of The Tudor Queen, which I was a bit underwhelmed by. But now Dean Street Press are on the case and are re-publishing the entire Bush back catalogue. Bush wrote sixty-three novels Travers novels between 1926 – The Plumley Inheritance Case – and 1968 – The Case Of The Prodigal Daughter, and of those, this is the fifth. So far, Dean Street Press have released ten (up to The Case Of The Three Strange Faces).

This is a bit of a game of two halves, really. On the one hand, this is an excellent fairplay, well-clued mystery. There’s a good handful of suspects, and while a couple seem to fade into the background a little too early, there’s plenty going on here. There are plenty of questions abounding that only make sense when the full story is revealed, and there’s a clever murder method here as well. The solution is both complex and simple and while the killer is fairly guessable, there’s plenty of details that all but the most careful armchair detective will miss.

On the other hand… the characters are all a bit one-dimensional. This is more fuel for my theory on why some writers survived the Golden Age and others vanished into obscurity. That theory, if you recall, is not the popular one, i.e. “being female” but that the authors who created interesting sleuths were the ones who lasted. Travers is not desperately interesting, and the central section does rather drag.

So, if you’re looking for a well-constructed puzzle, then the line starts here. But if you want a character-filled mystery that will break your heart… well, then Bush probably isn’t for you, on the evidence of this one at least. Still, this is a mystery review blog, so I guess that makes this one Well Worth A Look.

Many thanks to Dean St Press for the review copy.


  1. Try CUT THROAT or TCOT APRIL FOOLS, from the first ten, to see what Bush can do at his best. CUT THROAT is an intricate, tantalizing problem – you know who, but he has a cast iron alibi; and APRIL is a GA Baroque problem, like a Carr.

    Travers really comes into his own once Franklin disappears; he narrates the later ones in his worldly, rather wry, style. Bush isn’t Allingham or Blake, but his people are well observed, and he’s got more feel for the arts than the other Realist writers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think unquestionably the character writers won the day, the Crime Queens in the UK and the hard boiled/noir and suspense writers in the US, to simplify hugely; but in the process the puzzle first crowd, who held the field in the 1920s, got shamefully neglected. It’s nice in my view to have publishers responding more inclusively, with reprints, to all sorts of mystery fans.

    Christie has been dismissed in certain quarters for her writing, but I’ve always thought that unfair. She must give life to Poirot, Marple and others or else readers would not have been so fondly attached to them over the years.

    Certainly Bush wasn’t an Allingham or Blake, but then neither was Street, the Coles, Lorac, Crofts, Connington, Bude or Flynn, just to name a few. Though Bush, like some of these other writers, gives some evidence of manners novels influence in the late ‘30s. But there will be more said about that in the next set of Bush reprints.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think your theory is obviously true. Or it’s obvious that it should be true …

    There are counterexamples! One of my top 10 Mysteries of all types is Death of My Aunt by Kitchin (2 sequels both pretty good). AEW Mason created Hanaud 10 years before Poirot. Out of print, and unread even by you. And these guys wrote elegant prose too.

    But it is the main attraction in the Stout novels, the Thinking Machine and Maz Carrados, etc. not to forget Marple of course.

    I do think this is a big part of the Carr problem. Archons of Athens, burn me, capes and shovel hats are dull and unconvincing; fussing over extravagant mustaches and unsymmetrical eggs works.

    The biggest challenge is that Marsh is still in print. Never been out of print.

    My conclusion: Our theory is too good for the sordid facts.

    Being female does help I expect with Cozy or pure puzzle type mysteries. Easy comparisons to AC. (Even Anthony Horowitz objects to being *called* Agatha Christie*)


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