Reprint Of The Year – The Case Of The Dead Shepherd

As the year winds its way to a close, my fellow bloggers and I have decided to do a joint exercise, namely Reprint Of The Year. So much Golden Age crime fiction is being reprinted at the moment, much of it unpublished for decades, that we have decided to celebrate those reprints, the authors behind them and the publishers who have brought those books back to us. And then you, dear reader, can vote. And I’ve decided to start with, in order, The Case Of The Dead Shepherd, Christopher Bush, and Dean St Press.

Dean St Press have done sterling work over the past few years with their reprints. I suppose they are primarily known for the reissuing the complete Bobby Owen canon from E R Punshon, but they have also rediscovered, with the help of Curtis Evans, some real long-lost gems, such as the three Harriet Rutland novels, the Benevuto Brown novels from Elizabeth Gill, the Robin Forsythe titles and the Ianthe Jerrold books. All of these are worth checking out, but my first port of call, until of course they get round to Brian Flynn (HINT!) is the Christopher Bush Ludovic Travers mysteries.

Christopher Bush wrote sixty-three novels featuring the amateur sleuth Travers alongside Superintendent Wharton, a pair who in a refreshing change from most Golden Age pairings, share the crime solving duties – there are some where Wharton sorts it out, others where it is Travers and at least one, The Case Of The April Fools, where DI Norris sorts it all out. It almost adds an extra layer to whodunit, namely whosgoingtosolveit. The books have a general lightness of touch to them, but don’t eschew away from grim tidings, from the description of the corpse in The Case Of The Bonfire Body to the tone of the book that I’m going to talk about in this post. It is worth mentioning too the Travers wartime trilogy, namely The Cases of the Murdered Major, Kidnapped Colonel and Fighting Soldier, three mysteries that draw on Bush’s wartime experiences to give the tales a sense of reality.

All in all, Dean St Press released twenty Bush titles this year, from The Case Of The 100% Alibis to The Case Of The Missing Men, but I’m going to concentrate on one in particular, the twelfth Travers title, The Case Of The Dead Shepherd aka The Tea Tray Murders.

Maybe it resonated to me because it was set in a school, but not the public school that you normally see in the genre but a normal, somewhat grim, state school. A teacher is found dying from poison after pinching a cup of tea from the trolley destined for the headmaster, but that headmaster is soon found with his head bashed in. The tale is bleak but compelling and as things head to their inevitable (with hindsight at least) conclusion, I found myself unable to put the book down. The plot is clever, with the necessary blend of complexity and simplicity that makes the best Golden Age mystery, and I find it hard to believe that anyone could leave this book unsatisfied.

Of course, people have done exactly that – Nick Fuller, writing on the gadetection website is clearly not a fan of it –“Everything about the book is sunk in lifelessness” – but with six out of eight five star reviews on Amazon, that most trustworthy of review sites, it would seem Nick is in a minority.

Anyway, this is my first nomination for Reprint Of The Year. Be back next week when I nominate my second by an author who has at least two other nominations from my colleagues, so I can explain to you why my choice is the right one. And why they are wrong…

21 comments

    • Interesting – I wonder, are you a teacher? Because the staffroom atmosphere, full of negativity and disillusionment, echoed one of the schools that I have taught at in my career. Hence perhaps an additional resonance from the plot with me. Schools are not all places of joy and wonder – they can be, and many, many are, but unfortunately this one rang too true to home for me.

      On the off-chance anyone who I teach reads this, rest assured that the school I’m referring to is most definitely not my current place of employment!

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  1. I taught at a public institution too and this book really resonated with me, ugh. If only life could be all Gaudy Night, but often it’s Dead Shepherd. There was a persuasive grimness here (and an intricate plot) that reminded me of the best PD James. I’m glad some people have liked it, I know it didn’t go over with our extremely erudite Nick Fuller. I can see why it might not appeal to everyone.

    I have mentioned B. F., believe me! 😉

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    • I’m glad to here that you never had to experience such a work environment. While not as bad as the one in the book, I had a two year stint under an unpleasant headmaster that I don’t want to repeat

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  2. It has been on my kindle for well over a year, and there it sits until I can get out from under all the paper grading and professional development meetings!!!

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  3. I am on the verge of applying for a teacher training degree so I may hold off on reading this one until I reach that point of no return (Because of the time and financial investment I mean – not because I have been murdered with a poisoned cup of tea).

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  4. Fro me this has a very lively and engaging opening. I liked it a lot, then for some reason I set it aside and never picked it up again. I do tend to get sidetracked. I’ll have to read the whole book later this month.

    You have to keep in mind that almost all of Nick Fuller’s reviews posted on the GA Detection website were written when he was still in college. I’d like to think that he has grown an matured over time and his sometimes petulant and immature dismissals of books he thinks are “bad” have changed. The reviews were taken from an old website (now unused) created back 2001. He only revived that site (The Grandest Game in the World) a few years ago in the form of a blog and reposted all of those reviews, some of them not at all changed or revised to reflect new opinions.

    I think the passage of 17 years can change a person. Interestingly, if you do look up the review for …Dead Shepherd on his new blog you’ll see that while the review is pretty much word for word as what is found on the GA Detection site, Nick changed his rating to three stars, not the original two.

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    • Not just seventeen years – when I go back and read my reviews from the beginning, sometimes I’m a little embarrassed about the whole thing.

      I just cited Nick as a nay-sayer as I know there are a few who don’t like this one because of the tone.

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  5. Well, obviously, this is now going down on the list of books I need to own…me having my academic mystery addiction and all. Still holding on to my choice for this week, though.

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