Case Without A Corpse (1937) by Leo Bruce

“I always supposed a murder case started with a corpse, and then you had to find out ‘oo done it. This time we know ‘oo’s done it, but we can’t find the corpse.”

Sergeant Beef was having a quiet pint and a game of darts when Young Rogers bursts in, announcing that he’s come to give himself up as he has committed a murder. He then produces a bottle and swigs from it… and collapses to the floor dead.

With blood on his hands, it seems clear Young Rogers was telling the truth – but there’s a slight problem. Several people who crossed paths with the reprobate have disappeared without a trace but disappeared doesn’t mean dead. But without a corpse, no idea who was actually murdered, and Scotland Yard traipsing all over the case, it’ll take the deductive know-how of Sergeant Beef to get to the truth.

I enjoyed Case For Three Detectives a lot – maybe not quite as much as some, but it’s still a great read, and I’ve finally come back to Leo Bruce’s Beef series. Bruce writes with a light touch with an eye on doing something a little different with the structure of the detective novel while still staying true to the traditions.

Beef is a great lead character, a grass roots policeman who, while impressed by Inspector Stute of the Yard, has his own little methods and deductions leading, unsurprisingly, to the truth. Bruce writes brightly, with our narrator not necessarily convinced of Beef’s abilities. This is only Beef’s second case after Case For Three Detectives, and given that Inspector Stute seems for a while to be a much better prospect, there’s a question as to whether Beef was lucky last time out. Needless to say, this is indeed Beef’s show but Bruce does a good job of not making Stute an idiot, just an competent investigator who doesn’t quite look at things in the way necessary to solve the case, a case with both a simple and a complex solution.

It’s all rather delightful, really. I think the seasoned armchair sleuth will guess part of what is going on, but the proper solution, with all the bits and bobs? Maybe not.

This is definitely worth your time, it’s one of the more entertaining Golden Age mysteries that I’ve read for a while, clever, funny and never dull. There’s a pricey ebook version out there, but you can pick up second hand copies quite cheaply. UPDATE: Or not, apparently. I got a cheap copy but must have been lucky… Sorry for getting your hopes up.

Just The Facts, Ma’am: WHAT – Comic/Humorous Novel

5 comments

  1. With just the one Beef book left to read, I’m putting this in the second tier of Bruce’s output in that series — it’s a lot of fun, and actually serves as a very clever look at many of the trappings of the detective story…but, c’mon, Townsend spends so long deriding Beef and praising Stute, and Beef has to be the one to solve it, so for me there was a lot of wasted space around a clever idea.

    The first tier, incidentally, would be the trifecta of …Three Detectives, …with No Conclusion, and …for Sergeant Beef. Wonderful books, all of ’em.

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  2. The US paperback edition of Case without a Corpse is available in the used bookmarket with prices ranging from $20 – $7. I wouldn’t pay any more for a 1992 PB edition. That’s got to be pretty cheap in British pounds. So you were right. I have no idea where you look on the web, but I highly recommend you use vialibri.net as your first go to website when looking for any used books.

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