2/19/18

Invisible Weapons (1938) by John Rhode

Major Cecil John Charles Street was simply John Street to his personal acquaintances and is remembered by mystery readers as either "John Rhode" or "Miles Burton," two of his pennames that were signed to over a hundred detective novels, but Street was tarred and feathered as a humdrum writer by the detractors of the cerebral detective story – which likely played a part in obscuring Street's work after his passing in 1964. At least until recently, that is.

This decade has blossomed into a renaissance era for the traditional detective story and an ever-expanding band of long-neglected mystery writers are finding their way back into print.

John Bude, Christopher Bush, E.R. Punshon, Harriet Rutland and Roger Scarlett are just a handful of examples of mystery writers who have recently been rescued from biblioblivion, but, now that humdrum is no longer a derogatory term, J.J. Connington and Freeman Wills Crofts also reappeared in print. Crofts is even shedding his undeserved, completely slanderous, reputation as the writer who cured insomnia.

Street is considered by many as the headmaster of the humdrum school, but is lagging behind Connington and Crofts when it comes to getting his work reprinted. British Library reissued The Secret of High Eldersham (1930) and Death in the Tunnel (1936) and Ramble House printed new editions of Death Leaves No Card (1940) and A Smell of Smoke (1959) – all four of them published as by "Miles Burton." A pseudonym Street used for his secondary series-characters, Desmond Merrion and Inspector Arnold.

However, Street is best remembered, if remembered at all, for the detective novels he wrote as "John Rhode" and they, too, are finally starting to reappear in print!

HarperCollins is currently reprinting an entire series of obscure, long-overlooked mystery novels as Detective Club Crime Classics and Rhode's primary series-characters, Dr. Lancelot Priestley, is part of the lineup! Brand new editions of Death at Breakfast (1936) and Invisible Weapons (1938) have already hit the shelves, which will be followed later this year by The Paddington Mystery (1925) and Mystery at Olympia (1935). So the mystery readers who love meticulous plotted detective stories have something to look forward to!

Invisible Weapons was released only a week, or two, ago and immediately snatched a copy for my personal locked room library. Yes, this is one of Rhode's altogether too rare excursions into the impossible crime genre and the apparently inexplicable murder from the first, of two, parts of the story would have been right at home on the pages of a Carter Dickson novel. You can even make a case that the first murder here is, kind of, a relative of the two impossible slayings in The Unicorn Murders (1935), which looked like the work of the legendary (invisible) unicorn – except that Rhode offered a different explanation. And the overall story was, as to be expected, more down to earth.

The story begins with Constable Linton of the Abberminster Police going around to the home of Dr. Thornborough, aptly named Epidaurus, to discuss a local nuisance, Alfie Prince, but the doctor is not home and the constable is asked to wait for him in the consulting-room. And there he hears how another unexpected visitor arrives at the home.

Robert Fransham is Mrs. Thornborough's uncle and claims to have received an invitation to come down, from London, to discuss a private matter, but the Dr. Thornborough never wrote such a letter and now Fransham failed to emerge from the cloakroom – where he was washing his hands. So the constable has to batter down the locked door and inside they find the body of Fransham stretched on the floor with an inexplicable wound in his forehead. The cloakroom had been locked on the inside and the only window had a small, open panel of frosted glass, which looked out on upon the carriage-way and the outside of this window was protected by stout iron bars. Framsham's chauffeur, Coates, was in full view of the carriage-way and swears nobody had entered the carriage-way at the time of the murder.

Superintendent Yateley favors Dr. Thornborough as the murderer, but he has no way of proving it. The cloakroom had been locked on the inside and no murder weapon had been found there, which makes the use of a projectile unlikely. So he calls upon Scotland Yard to figure out how the murder was committed and Superintendent Hanslet assigns young Inspector Jimmy Waghorn to the case. Waghorn represents here, somewhat, of a weak link in the overall plot.

Steve, the Puzzle Doctor, of In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, was one of the first to review this new edition and observed that Waghorn's fluctuating intelligence is on full display here. I agree.

Waghorn showed competence when questioning people, gathering information and even making an important discovery in the wall that faced the window of the cloakroom, but was unable to put two and two together to work out the murder method – a nifty, innovative new take on an old trick. A seasoned armchair detective will have no problem imagining how the locked room trick was worked when learning the shape of the wound in combination with the situation within that cloakroom. So why Waghorn didn't catch on is a little baffling.

Still, I had fun in the first part putting together, what turned out to be, a false solution largely based on Fransham personality, his (family) back-story and a worn greatcoat from the First World War. I began to warm to my own theory as it began to take shape, but, at the end of the first part, Waghorn admitted defeat and threw the towel in the ring.

The second part of the story concerns the death of Sir Godfrey Branstock, who was found dead in his own wine cellar during his birthday party, but the peculiar link here is that Sir Godfrey was the next door neighbor and landlord of Fransham! And we all know that can't be a coincidence.

At this point in the story, Dr. Lancelot Priestley, who made a brief appearance in the first half of the book, becomes more active and helps Waghorn and Hanslet with figuring out how both murders were pulled off. Priestley gives an after-dinner demonstration how the murder weapon in Fransham case could have a vanished from a locked room using a calf's head and his explanation for the murder of Sir Godfrey shows why Rhode was the genre's engineer of crime.

On a whole, the logical explanation fitted together very nicely. Not just how the murders were committed, but also the identity of the culprit and how the crimes were linked together, which turned out to have a (somewhat) original motive for the murder of Fransham – giving his death a shade of tragedy. I also liked the matter-of-fact ending in which Rhode stated that the murderer was committed to trial, found guilty by a jury and "condemned to death." I wonder if the murderer was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint. Anyway...

You can place question marks behind the feasibility of the murder methods, but the ingenuity of the plots is one of the hallmarks of Rhode's detective-fiction and is what makes them so fun to read. Bush and Crofts were craftsmen who constructed and destroyed cast-iron alibis. John Dickson Carr found out ways to accomplish the seemingly impossible and Rhode was a technically-minded writer who used the marvels of modern science and mechanics to shed people of their mortal coil. Invisible Weapons is a good example of his technical prowess and ingenuity. Highly recommended to everyone who loves pure, plot-oriented detective stories.

I hope HarperCollins, or any publisher out there, continues to reissue his work, because there many titles within his immense body of work that need to be reprinted as soon as possible. Personally, I would like to see Death at Low-Tide (1938), Murder, M.D. (1943), The Three-Corpse Trick (1944) and The Cat Jumps (1946) getting reprinted, which are part of the Desmond Merrion series. As for the Dr. Priestley novels, I would very much like to see Dead Men at the Folly (1932), The Corpse in the Car (1935), The Bloody Tower (1938), Vegetable Duck (1944) and Twice Dead (1960) appear back into print. So, if any publisher is reading this, you would do all of us a great service if you can get those reputed gems on our bookshelves. I believe Steve, the Puzzle Doctor, wants to talk with you about getting Brian Flynn reprinted. 

So far my rambling review and I'll be returning to Bush for the next one. 

2/17/18

The Strange Death of Manny Square (1941) by A.B. Cunningham

A.B. Cunningham was an American teacher and professor, who taught English for twenty years at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, before retiring in 1945 as a professor emeritus, but, as was not entirely uncommon in those day, he had a secondary career as a mystery novelist – which became a full-time occupation after he retired from teaching. Cunningham wrote roughly twenty detective novels about his series-detective, Sheriff Jess Roden, who serves the people of rural Deer Lick, Kentucky. A county with as high a murder rate as Cabot Cove up there in Maine.

Cunningham was brought to my attention by The Anthony Boucher Chronicles: Reviews and Commentary, 1942-47 (2009), which praises his rural detective stories for its "memorable writing” and "fine regional flavor." Boucher was reputedly quite a fan and called him "an unclassifiable master."

So all that praise caught my eye and, back in 2011, I got my hands on an inexpensive paperback of Death Haunts the Dark Lane (1948) and the slice of rural Americana was definitely the most memorable aspect of the story, but, according to my own review, the plot wasn't all that shabby either – warranting a second look at the series. And, after nearly seven years, a return trip to Deer Lick has been long overdue.

The Strange Death of Manny Square (1941) is the third book in the series and the opening chapters immediately gives the reader a taste of Cunningham's famed regional flavor.

Cunningham begins by looking back at some of the exciting events that had stirred the people of Deer Lick in the past. Such as a "Great Disappointment" when an end-of-the-world prophecy didn't pan out or when Gus Luker had claimed that his grandmother had foretold the assassination of President William McKinley, who had read it in "the webs of spiders," but none of them had generated as much excitement or speculation as the murder of Manny Square. A pillar and leader of the Deer Lick community.

Manny had inherited his farm from his father, Emanuel, who had divided his land and houses between his two sons and their mother. Wayne had been Emanuel's favorite son and he was allowed to pick between two plots of land, but, during "a two-year circus," he had run through in his inheritance and even the bank could no longer finance his lavish house parties – all the while his older brother had doubled the value of his inheritance by turning it into a rolling, fertile farmland. Their mothers, Old Lou, was a woman of the old stock and was described as being of "the caliber that would keep on loading and firing her rifle over the dead body of her son" until "the last redskin lay twitching from her own rifle ball." However, the strong-willed Old Lou had to admit defeat when Manny married a comely, working-class girl, Lizzie Bogle, who Old Lou tried to reinvent as Mrs. Beth Square. She was unsuccessful.

Scene of the Crime

So this sets the stage for when the news reaches Sheriff Roden that Manny had met with a fatal accident in his own stables. Apparently, Manny had been killed by "a smashing kick" to the face by his great white mule, Ligre, who some suspect had simply been biding his time to strike out. Regardless of appearances, Sheriff Roden is terribly suspicious of the situation and, quick and neatly, deduces that Manny had been murdered, which he based on the location and nature of the head wound that showed that not the toe, but the heel, had struck first – demonstrating that the fatal blow had come from above instead of below. And almost as quickly, he works out that the murderer must have wired a mule-shoe to a sledgehammer and dropped it on Manny's head from the overhead mow.

However, the how is only the first step in figuring out who-and why, for which there are more than enough candidates. Wayne is in dire need for money and Lizzie turns out to have a secret affair with one of her husband's hired hands, Fred Sutton, giving them all a rock-solid motive for murder. Then there was a petty, long-standing feud between Manny and his next-door neighbor, Brady Heard, who had refused to place a fence at the summit of his stone quarry and Manny had been too headstrong to do it himself – claiming that it was Heard's responsibility to take the precaution. Every now and then, an animal would fall into the quarry and the same would happen, a day or so later, to one of Heard's animals.

So there you have nearly all of the components of a knotty, complicated detective story, but, in spite of appearances, the observant reader should be able to arrive at the same conclusion as Sheriff Roden without too much difficulty. All of the evidence needed to answer who killed Manny Square, and why, is hidden within the personalities and behavior of the suspects.

The Strange Death of Manny Square definitely qualifies as an old-fashioned, fair play detective novel, however, the main attraction of the book is not its plot, but the writing and backdrop of the story – which reminded me of the writing of Arthur W. Upfield. Roden is even described as "a tracker," who can read and extract information from animal tracks and human footprints, giving him the same qualities as Upfield's half-aboriginal policeman, Detective-Inspector Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte. Arguably the greatest tracker in all of detective fiction.

Unfortunately, no matter how good the writing or plot may be, this specific title is never getting reprinted in this day and age. There are three black characters in the story and how they're being portrayed, or talked about, ensures that no publisher today would dare touching it.

I don't remember these attitudes were present in Death Haunts the Dark Lane and John Norris, who reviewed Cunningham's Death at the Bottoms (1942) and The Great Yant Mystery (1943), only referred to the presence of Big Nig in one of them – a character who also appeared in this book. So I assume Cunningham toned it down a bit after the first three or four books, but I can easily imagine how these earlier titles might have prevented his later work from getting reprinted after the 1960s. And that would be a terrible shame, because I would like to read more by Cunningham and in particular his two impossible crime novels. Anyway...

On a whole, The Strange Death of Manny Square is a well-written, decently plotted detective novel, in which the characters (largely) drive the plot, but the portrayal and treatment of the black characters will most likely turn off some readers today. However, if you can read this story within the time-frame it was written, you'll probably be able to admire the positive aspects of this rural detective novel.

On a final note, I was planning to return to Christopher Bush, but a particular locked room mystery arrived in the mail today. So that one is going to be next on the list.

2/14/18

Murder and Magic: "A Stretch of the Imagination" (1973) by Randall Garrett

Last week, a positive review of Randall Garrett's Too Many Magicians (1967) appeared on Mysteries Ahoy, which was voted by a 1981 panel, spearheaded by Edward D. Hoch, as one of the fourteen all-time greatest impossible crime novels, but personally, I thoroughly detest the infernal book – giving it spot on my 2014 list of "Least Favorite Locked Room Mysteries." So, naturally, I was balking in the comment-section how awful the book really was when "JJ," of The Invisible Event, dropped by with an astonishing claim.

According to JJ, the short stories in the Lord Darcy series are "variable" in quality, but the one where "a man is found hanged in his office," despite no-one having gone in, contains "a trick so devious" he'd probably put it in his top 20 locked room short stories. I happened to have a complete omnibus edition of Garrett's Lord Darcy collecting dust on my shelves, which made it even more tempting to give this series a second shot by taking a look at "A Stretch of the Imagination."

So damn you, JJ, for making me return to this series and I'll damn you again at the end of this review, if the story turns out to be really good.

First of all, an introduction of the series in order for the people who are not familiar with Garrett's Lord Darcy, because the books merged the fantasy genre with the traditional detective story. And as much as I dislike the sole novel in this series, Too Many Magicians, I do admire Garrett's attempt to transplant the fair play concept of the classical detective story to a world rife with wizards, spells and the black arts – which makes for an interesting alternative universe.

In this alternative universe "Richard the Lion-Hearted did not die in the year 1199," but went on "to found the mightiest and most stable empire in history" where "the laws of Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP) have been codified." However, the laws of physics remain unsuspected. So in this world "magic is a science."

The greatest detective of this Anglo-Franco Empire is Lord Darcy, Chief Criminal Investigator for His Royal Highness, Richard, Duke of Normandy and Officer of the King's Justice, John IV, King and Emperor of England, France, Scotland, Ireland, New England and New France, King of the Romans and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Imagine the printing costs of his personal calling cards!

Lord Darcy is assisted by Master Sean O Lochlainn, Chief Forensic Sorcerer, who always struck me as a convenient plot-device to eliminate the use of magic from the list of possible solutions or use his magic wand to uncover clues. 

The story JJ spoke so highly of is "A Stretch of the Imagination," originally published in Of Men and Malice in 1973 and collected in Garrett's Murder and Magic (1979), which takes place within the walls of one of the most important publishing houses in Normandy, Mayard House, where staff members heard a thump and noises through the thick doors of the private-office of Lord Arlen – who owns the publishing house. However, nobody dares to enter the office until the Chief Editor, Sir Stefan, takes the charge and enters the private sanctum of his boss.

Lord Arlen was hanging by his neck from a rope that been thrown over a massive wooden beam and below his feet was an overturned chair. Nobody had entered, or left, the office in over an hour. So clearly a case of suicide, but, whenever a member of the aristocracy dies violently, an Officer of the King's Justice has to make a formal inquiry. Enter Lord Darcy and Master O Lochlainn.

Master O Lochlainn is waving "a small golden wand" around the crime-scene and senses that "there was no one else in the room at the time he died." He was also able to eliminate the possibility of an evil influence or the use of black magic in the room. Later on in the story, O Lochlainn casts a spell on the rope used to hang Lord Arlen and it sprung to life to retie itself in the slip-knot noose that the murderer had originally tied. I know wizardry is an established science in this universe and Garrett never uses magic as a solution, but I did not care for these magical intrusions in my detective story.

I guess fantasy just isn't my genre, which is weird, since my all-time favorite novel is Michael Ende's The Never-Ending Story (1979).

Luckily, this time, the plot was far more inspired than the boring, slow-moving Too Many Magicians, which borrowed its locked room idea from John Dickson Carr, but here the reader is treated to a novel explanation as to how the murderer managed to hang a man, all alone, inside a closely watched office – based on a crushed larynx, height of the chair and a slightly open window. A type of trick you'll often find in Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed series (e.g. the hanging story from Vol. 57).

Considering my disdain for this series, I was pleasantly surprised that the story, as a whole, turned out to be pretty solid with an original solution for its impossible crime. I'm not sure it would make my top 20 list, but the story was good one. Although the locked room-trick would probably have been better served in a detective story without all the magic trappings. However, that is a bit of nitpicking on my part.

So that leaves me with one last thing to say: double damn you, JJ, for not being entirely wrong about "A Stretch of the Imagination." You may continue to practice as locked room expert. For now, anyway.

2/11/18

The Case of the Missing Minutes (1936) by Christopher Bush

Christopher Bush's The Case of the Missing Minutes (1936) is the sixteenth title in the Ludovic Travers series, published between 1926 and 1968, in which Travers has to demolish an alibi as ingeniously contrived as the time-manipulation trick from Cut Throat (1932) – except that here there was a human element as to how ten minutes were lost to time. Or, as a certain detective would have called it, "the blinkin' awful cussedness of things in general."

I have come to appreciate Nick Fuller's observation that Bush was to the unbreakable alibi what John Dickson Carr was to the locked room mystery, but The Case of the Missing Minutes has another aspect that makes the book standout. The truly reprehensible personality of the victim and how his own revelations forced Travers to bow out of the case.

Quentin Trowte is an elderly, eccentric sadist and his crime makes him as repulsive a character as Mary Gregor (Anthony Wynne's The Silver Scale Mystery, 1931), Sandra, the Fat Woman (Nicholas Brady's The Fair Murder, 1933) and Mr. Ratchett (Agatha Christie's The Murder on the Orient Express, 1934).

Trowte has obtained fully custody over his 10-year-old granddaughter, Jeanne, who lives with him a dark, lonely house where she's home-schooled by a private-tutor, Mr. Howcrop. Only other people who are present are the two servant, Lucy and Fred Yardman, who are banished to their cottage after the dinner table had been cleared. However, they did not suspect anything untoward was happening in the house, because the elderly eccentric appeared to dote and adore his granddaughter. Yardmans were also of the opinion that Jeanne was "a very deceitful child," but then they began to hear the shrieks coming from the house in the dead of night.

Lucy Yardman decides to write her former employee, Helen, whose brother is Ludovic Travers and he decides to go down to place to observe the situation, but when he arrives at the home he finds the door slightly ajar and inside he finds Trowte sprawled in the hallway – gasping for his last breath. Someone had knifed the old man in the back mere minutes before he arrived. A frightened, white-faced Jeanne was crouched by the stairs and she turns out to be fully dressed beneath her nightdress, which is the first of many unsettling discoveries they make about the girls.

A doctor determined that Jeanne was an undernourished, "bundle of nerves," which comes on top of the unsettling discovery that the house had been fitted with means to spy on Jeanne and Howcrop. Such as a secret panel in the dark, windowless bedroom of the girl and the presence of a locked, but empty, room.

Travers not only plays his usual part as a lanky, bespectacled detective, but doubles as "Uncle Ludo" in an attempt to win the confidence of the frightened child. But his interest in Jeanne is not merely to pry information from here. Travers becomes genuinely fond of the child and tries to analyze why he wanted her to be fond of him, which eventually makes him to decide to withdraw from the investigation. 
 
Overall, the murder of the Quentin Trowte is a complicated one with many side-issues. Why did the girl's tutor showed such great affection to the girl after the murder and is there a link to a famous pianist who's holidaying in the neighborhood? The local village physician, Doctor Mannin, was asked by a passing car to help one of the passengers, who had a stab wound in the arm, but after he had stitched up the man he was knocked over the head and thrown in a ditch – from which he emerged with a broken leg. However, this plot-thread was the only one of the bunch that had a less than satisfactory answer.

Japanese edition
And then there are the alibis. One of these alibis, if it was manufactured, makes absolutely no sense. Not if that person is the murderer. Interestingly, there was a very brief promise of an alibi-lecture, like the Dr. Fell's locked room lecture in Carr's The Hollow Man (1935), when one of the suspects asked Travers what kind of ideas he specialized in. Travers answered that he specialized in testing people's alibis and "trying to prove that no gentleman, however ingenious, can be in two places at once." Sadly, he only mentioned "clock manipulation" and the time-honored dodge of convincing an impartial witness that "you were not where the police claimed you were." I would have liked a chapter-length lecture on all of the familiar alibi-tricks used in detective stories. Has this been done by any other mystery writer or perhaps in later Bush novel?

So the case has more than enough peculiarities to keep an inquisitive amateur fully occupied, but when Travers discovers why Trowte had a twenty-five shilling bill from a pet shop he throws in the towel.

By this point, Travers has a good idea who the murderer is and, eventually, his policeman friend, Superintendent George Wharton, finds his way to the murderer as well, but both are stumped by the alibi. An alibi that continues to stump Travers until the very last pages, during which he gets a flash of inspiration when Jeanne is trying to stay up pass her bedtime and grasps the answer to the missing ten minutes. An answer that's as clever as it's bittersweet.

The Case of the Missing Minutes is Bush's The Crooked Hinge (1938) and, while the alibi-trick does not exactly qualify as an impossible crime, the plot is more Carr-like than The Case of the Chinese Gong (1935) and the cruel abuse of a 10-year-old child makes this a highly unusual, but memorable, detective novel from the genre's Golden Era. Highly recommended.

I guess the time has come to induct Bush into my personal hall of favorite mystery novelists. Let's be honest, it was inevitable after Dancing Death (1931) and The Case of the Arpil Fools (1933).

On a final note, I wanted to do three Bush reviews in a row, but there will be break and you can blame our mutual friend, "JJ," because he said Randell Garrett wrote a short Lord Darcy story with a locked room trick that he considered to be top 20 material. Yes, the guy who made an impossible crime novel about wizards, swashbuckling specters and locked room murders a dull snore-fest wrote a classic locked room tale. I'm sure he did. So you better pray that the story is as good as you remember it, JJ, because it's next on my chopping block. 

2/8/18

The Case of the Chinese Gong (1935) by Christopher Bush

Late last year, I reviewed Christopher Bush's The Case of the Amateur Actor (1955), a relatively late entry in the series, by which time Ludovic Travers had transmogrified from an amateur detective into a genteel private-investigator working for the Broad Street Detective Agency – even narrating his own cases like a proper gumshoe. Stylistically, it was a radical departure from the earlier, puzzle-oriented novels with their minutely timed, clockwork-like plots and seemingly indestructible alibis. A style that has been affectionately dubbed "Golden Age baroque."

Regardless of this change, The Case of the Amateur Actor showed clearly Bush still knew how to construct an intricate plot during his later years and that makes me really look forward to their republication in the not-so-distant future. Anyway, I ended my review at the time with a promise to return to those early-period titles and had Dead Man Twice (1930) lined up for January of this year.

Evidently, that whole plan didn't exactly pan out and Dead Man Twice has since been returned to the big pile, because I recently got my hands on a number of titles I had been eagerly looking forward to.

Only a few days ago, Dean Street Press released the second set of reprints in Bush's Ludovic Travers series and this second batch has a couple of intriguing titles, such as The Case of the 100% Alibis (1934) and The Case of the Missing Minutes (1937), but the title that really aroused my curiosity was The Case of the Chinese Gong (1935) – an impossible crime novel that has invited reviewers in the past to draw comparisons with John Dickson Carr. So that got my full attention and the reason why I picked it first.

The Case of the Chinese Gong is the thirteenth entry in the series and, as said above, considered by many to be a Carrian impossible crime story, but the opening chapters initially reminded me of Cat's Paw (1931) by Roger Scarlett. A detective novel that's still freshly lodged in my memory.

Hubert Greeve is a thoroughly unpleasant, foul-tempered and tight-fisted man who made "a pretty big fortune" by liquidating a family business in Russia and investing the money in an engineering company at the beginning of the munitions wave of the First World War – which came at the expensive of his four nephews. Greeve's settled with a gentleman's agreement that all of his money would come to them upon his death and promised to lend a helping hand whenever he could. The nephews agreed at the time, because none of them was in direct need of money and promised to come by every year to celebrate his birthday, but "then the slump came."

Hugh Bypass is a schoolmaster and the oldest of the cousins, who had invested all he had in a private school, but there were not enough pupils to keep the place afloat. Martin Greeve was an engineer with his own toy-factory, but the Great Depression and a defaulting partner had completely ruined him. And he even tries to take his own life at the beginning of the story. Romney Greeve is an artist with a wife and two children, but ever since the slump he had been unable to sell any pictures. Finally, there's Tom Bypass, a retired army officer with bad lungs, who had a comfortable, yearly, income of five hundred pounds, but he had been using most of it to help his failing relatives and this came at a personal cost – least of all having to give up a high-class service flat in town. His doctor advised him to move to a country with a more agreeable climate or else he would not make it another year. Only problem is that Tom didn't have to money anymore to live abroad.

So they all turned to their uncle to make good on his promise and pay them what he owned them, but he turned them all down! And became as unpleasant as humanly possible.

Hubert began "a deliberate policy of provocation" and tried to get the four to quarrel, or even fight, with him, which would have given him an excuse to disinherit them. His latest provocation, as the cousins learned from his lawyer, Charles Mantlin, was the drafting of a completely new will in favor of his long-lost sister, Ethel, who everyone assumed had died decades ago. Hubert even asked Hugh and Martin to witness "a very important document." Unsurprisingly, the cousins aren't particularly fond of their uncle, but, in this case, they appear to actually take steps to eliminate him from their lives!

Meanwhile, Hubert called in the local police on two separate occasions: one of them is to report an intruder in the garden, who left behind a measuring tape in the summer-house, which is followed by a threatening letter from his long-lost brother-in-law demanding that all the money goes to Ethel.

All of this culminates when the four cousins, alongside the lawyer, come to his country estate to celebrate his birthday.

On the second day, Hubert is playing a game of cribbage with Martin in the drawing-room, while Hugh, Tom and Mantlin are sitting, or watching, in the same room. Romney is working in the summer-house twenty feet away from the room. And, as the butler smote the dinner-gong, Hubert slipped from his chair to the ground with a bullet-wound in his right temple and nobody in the room saw the shooter – who appears to have performed "a first-class miracle."

The apparently inexplicable death of Hubert Greeve was very reminiscent of the second impossible shooting in Stacey Bishop's Death in the Dark (1930), in which a member of the family, surrounded by witnesses, is shot to death in the middle of the living room. And nobody saw the murderer. Interestingly, Bush smoothed over a flaw I had with that impossible shooting from Death in the Dark. I could see how the trick could possibly work, but doubted that nobody would have noticed, or heard, from whose direction the gunshot came. A problem Bush neatly solved by timing the fatal shot with the ringing of the dinner-gong.

Bush's explanation for the shooting also differed from Bishop. The latter had a more technical solution, while former employed stage trickery. This prompted genre historian, Curt Evans, to compare the impossibility to one in Carr's Seeing is Believing (1941), published as by "Carter Dickson," but with a better explanation. As matter of fact, the explanation is an unusual one and know of only one variation on this particular trick, which can be found in a short story that was written over half a century later. No. I'm not going to say which one, because that would give the whole plot away. Once you know how it was done, you'll immediately spot the killer and the rather nifty clue that only becomes obvious in hindsight. However, Travers soon learns that getting to that conclusion is easier said than done.

I imagine there are readers, even among us, who sneer at the idea that practically everyone, independent of each other, is in the process of murdering the old man and the question is really who got to him first. Travers even concludes that Hubert could have been struck by two bullets at the same time, which were fired by two murderers who were unaware what the other was doing!

I know this stretches credulity a little bit, but I think it's a nifty way to make sure nobody is above, or below, suspicion, because literately everyone could have done it. Even the butler, John Service, who was lost mobility in one hand and used the other the smote the gong. However, someone saw him pointing his bum-hand in the direction of the drawing-room. And Service and his wife also play a bigger than normal role, for servants, in the story. One of the many problems facing Travers.

Other puzzle-pieces Travers has to toy around with are two missing volumes of The Decline and Fall of Roman Empire and a small collection of fire-arm recovered from a drained pond in the garden, which turn out not to have been used in the shooting in the drawing-room. They also find a tree with a contraption nailed to it.

Three further things that have to be mentioned is that Superintendent George Wharton is absent from the story and his position is filled by the Chief Constable of the county, Major Tempest, who reportedly made his first appearance in The Case of the 100% Alibis. Secondly, Travers is writing a new book, Kensington Gore: Murder for High-Brows, which hopefully he'll get recognized as much for in the coming books as for his famous The Economics of a Spendthrift. A book that's referred to in all the books I have read to date. Lastly, one plot-thread remained unsolved by the end: who sent that threatening letter at the start of the story? We never get an explanation for that. I suppose the plot was so complex that Bush lost sight of that minor plot-thread.

So, all in all, The Case of the Chinese Gong is a delightfully complex and knotty detective story, which might stretch believability for some readers, but those who love these intricate, baroque-style puzzles will get their moneys worth when they crack open the pages of this long-neglected detective novel. A real shame Robert Adey overlooked this one, as well as The Perfect Murder Case (1929), when he compiled Locked Room Murders (1991). It makes you wonder how many more impossible crime novels there among those sixty-three mysteries Bush penned during his life-time.

Here's to the new age of discovery and I'll be returning to Bush for my next post!