Ludovic Travers is enlisted by his sister to help out her former maid. She and her new husband have taken a post with one Quentin Trowte, an eccentric elderly gentleman with a young female ward, Jeanne. But as they sit in their bungalow, in the grounds of the estate, the night is filled with the most terrible shrieking through the night.
Travers investigates, but when the time come to confront Trowte directly, he arrives just too late – Trowte has just been stabbed in the back. As his enquiries proceed, he comes across two distinct problems. First, the fact that no suspects could have possibly committed the crime in the time frame – they have iron-clad alibis and would need at least ten extra minutes – and the second, as the truth about the victim becomes clear, does he really want the criminal to be caught? For it seems that Quentin Trowte may well have deserved his fate…
I’ve been hopping all over the place chronologically with the Travers books, as the good folk at Dean St Press have been releasing them faster than I can review them, but I thought I’d pop back to this one, Book 16, to continue where I left off with The Case Of The Chinese Gong and The Case Of The Bonfire Body. Comparing these side by side shows the variation in styles in Bush’s writing as this is less interested with whodunit and more interested in the bigger picture.
The main strand, I would say here, is what Trowte, the victim, was up to. It’s the most fairly clued aspect of the story and Bush leaves it quite late to expound exactly on his antics. It’s not your standard Golden Age behaviour, with the overall tale being significantly darker than you might expect. Travers’ decision towards the end of the day isn’t unique in crime fiction, but rarely has it felt more justified than here.
The story of the murderer is an absorbing one as well, although the existence of one of the red herring suspects does stretch coincidence to breaking point. But the arc of the killer’s character is much more strongly drawn than again you might expect.
The one aspect that the hardened armchair sleuth might find disappointing is the idea of the missing minutes. Don’t get me wrong, the solution to that aspect is rather lovely, but it did come across to me as overly simple for what has gone before, despite the emotional aspect to it. And again, the spoon of coincidence is used here to stir the plot up.
Overall, this is a hugely interesting entry into the Travers canon, and as an example of something a little different from the Golden Age. Highly Recommended.
As a quick reminder, the first thirty Christopher Bush titles are all available from Dean St Press with more, presumably, to come.