When Tom Bypass prevents his cousin, Martin, from committing suicide, he makes the above suggestion. After all, the four cousins who would benefit from the death of their uncle, Hubert Greeve, are all in financial trouble – the downturn in the economy has hit all of them hard.
Soon, the four cousins, along with Greeve’s lawyer, are gathered for the week at Greeve’s country house for an annual event. On Monday evening, everything goes as expected in the evening – the deafening dinner gong is struck and dinner is served. On Tuesday evening, things go exactly the same way – exactly down the slightest minutiae, even a playing card being dropped on the floor at the same moment – except in the middle of the gong’s crash, an extra noise is heard. And Greeve lies dead from a bullet wound. And nobody in the room saw a thing…
This was the twelfth of the Christopher Bush Ludovic Travers novels, sandwiched between The Case Of The Dead Shepherd, which I loved, and The Case Of The Monday Murders, which I admired more than enjoyed. I glad to say that this one is firmly in the earlier category – this is an absolute cracker of a detective story.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first. I don’t like the use of the word “zipp” to describe the sound or sensation of a bullet flying past you. Bush did, he uses it a lot for a few chapters, but that double-p… No, not for me. Oh, and it utterly fails the Bechdel Test.
Right, that’s the negative sorted out. Time to gush about how wonderful it is.
Yes, it’s a country house mystery, but the four nephews each have distinct personalities, as do the butler (who gets a decent part in proceedings) and the lawyer. Real world concerns intrude as well, as there are genuine needs for money here, not just greed, or due to frittering it away in night clubs. One, for example, has set up a school, just as the economy falls, so nobody can afford to send their children there. Bush, like John Street, seems to have a closer eye on the man in the street that a lot of Golden Age authors.
That doesn’t mean that he neglects the plot here – it’s a joyously convoluted affair. From the introduction, where the reader is led to believe that it might just be an alibi-busting tale, it blossoms into something much cleverer than that. It reminded me somewhat of the plot of one of my very favourite John Rhode titles, although they are distinctly different tales – I imagine only Curtis Evans will have read it, but I won’t name it as I have high hopes this is high on the list for re-issue.
Travers is good value here, paired with a new (to me) police sidekick, Major Tempest – he’s in The Case Of The 100% Alibis – and the story bounds along to a clever conclusion. I suppose this classifies as an impossible crime, with a man shot with no-one seeing a thing, but there’s so much more to this.
OK, so this is one to check out. In fact, I think it’s a good start point for Bush – while maybe not having the darkness of The Case Of The Dead Shepherd, this is an extremely well-constructed and well-written classic mystery novel that definitely needs a wider audience. Many, many thanks once again to Dean Street Press to reissuing these books – and this one, like two of the others that I’ve read so far, comes with my Highest Recommendation.