Ludovic Travers has been engaged by Courtney Allard and Charlie Crewe to help negotiate the new lease on their theatre but after his first meeting with them, he is lured to Allard’s country house to allegedly discuss the finer details. Travers, having overheard Allard and Crewe plotting in a restaurant, knows that this isn’t the real reason they want him there, but his curiosity gets the better of him and he goes anyway.
He finds himself amongst a gaggle of performers of various descriptions, alongside Allard’s family and servants, but begins to sense a wrongness about the situation. The next morning, April Fools’ Day, an incident occurs that, apart from one minor part, has all the trappings of an April Fools’ Day joke. Unfortunately, that one minor part is the existence of two dead bodies, one shot, one stabbed…
So far my encounters with Christopher Bush and Ludovic Travers have consisted of The Case Of The Tudor Queen (so-so) and Dancing Death (good, but I wasn’t as blown away by it as some people). This one was recommended to me by Nick Fuller and Curtis Evans as one of the best of the first ten recently re-issued by Dean Street Press and it’s an absolute cracker.
Travers is basically on his own for the first section, before being joined by recently promoted Detective Inspector Norris, a policeman that, contrary to the genre, gives as good as he takes from Travers. In fact, in one of my favourite bits of the tale… no, that’s a spoiler. Sorry. Both of the characters are well rounded foci for the tale – Travers is nicely self-deprecating, completely agreeing with this description of himself:
“He did look a bit of a fool. He was most decidedly bat-eyed and, as far as society went, he wasthe world’s worst incompetent.”
Bush does a good job with the suspects as well. Every character has a secret to hide and there are a few nice little sub-mysteries along to way to solve before the big reveal.
There are a few signs of the times, obviously – this is from 1933. My favourite was the moment where a character is abandoned by his host for a few minutes and the host’s suggestion as a way to pass the time is to have a cigarette – “you know where the cigarettes are”. One of the characters is clearly based on someone who had undergone a huge career-destroying scandal in Hollywood, a scandal that has since been discredited but hadn’t at the time. There’s the use of the word “sahib” to describe a man’s honesty, the use of the word to “Chink” to describe… well, let’s skirt round that one, the suggestion that a girl might deserves a slap in the face and – horror of horrors – the shame of a man walking around his house in the early morning WITHOUT A DRESSING GOWN ON! The shame of it!
I suppose the clearest sign of how much I enjoyed this one is this – I figured out/guessed most of what was going on very early on, certainly before the halfway point, but my attention never flagged despite my certainty. And I don’t think it’s obvious at all, by the way…
After this one, I’ll definitely be back for more from Bush and Travers. Thanks again to Dean St Press for reprinting these – DSP, if you’re reading this, Brian Flynn needs to be next – and, obviously, this classic from the Golden Age is Highly Recommended.
NB: OK, for people who have read this one – it just occurred to me that Bush might have played a very clever trick with the title of this one. Or am I reading too much into it?