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 So much Golden Age crime fiction is being reprinted at the moment, much of it unpublished for decades, that we have decided to celebrate those reprints, the authors behind them and the publishers who have brought those books back to us.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…