An Open Window (1988) by Roger Ormerod

In my review of Douglas Clark's Death After Evensong (1969), I briefly referred to a now obscure, post-WWII mystery writer, Roger Ormerod, who carried on to write detective stories grounded in the traditions of the Golden Age during the seventies and eighties – a period when the genre had moved towards realism and psychology. Somehow, I remembered reading The Weight of Evidence (1978) and More Dead Than Alive (1980) only last year, but my reviews date back to 2017. So it was high time to tackle another one of Ormerod's locked room mysteries!

An Open Window (1988) is the fourth entry in the Richard and Amelia Patton series and the story begins with an explosive opening chapter!

Richard and Amelia have been traveling around England in a fourteen-foot caravan, more out of necessity than pleasure, but they secured a regular spot on a caravan site and arranged with the owner he would try to keep plot 13 empty. When they return, they find a woman has taken their spot. Nancy Rafton had been there for three days and had been making inquiries about Amelia, but Richard learns this after Rafton's caravan explodes – which killed her and put Amelia in the hospital. However, an unexpected windfall swiftly diverts Richard's attention to an entirely different set of problems.

Amelia has an estranged uncle, Walter Mann, who recently died and his solicitor, Philip Carne, tells Richard Mann had altered his will two days before he died. A will that practically disinherited his children, Clare, Donald and Paul, who each get ten thousand pounds.

The residue of the estate goes to his niece, Amelia. This residue comprises of a furnished house, several cars, a portfolio of investments and 51% of the shares in Walter's company, Mann Optics. A factory that makes photographic equipment with an estimated capital value of around half a million. Richard is not only Amelia's acting power of attorney, but a former policeman. And he becomes interested in the circumstances under which Walter Mann died.

Two months before he died, Walter become convinced his family was trying to kill him and not only altered his will as a precaution, but began to lock himself inside a wide, lofty third-floor suite of rooms with a lock on the door that was "virtually un-pickable" – one of only two keys was around his neck on a chain. The second key was in possession of his loyal housekeeper, companion and surrogate mother of his children, Mary Pinson. So when he tumbled from the open window of the third-floor room, through the conservatory roof, everyone assumed it was an accident.

After all, the door of the room had been locked from the inside and the key was still on the chain around Walter's neck. And his dog had been with him in the room. So, if anyone had raised a hand to him, Sheba would have had "it off at the wrist."

The Weight of Evidence and More Dead Than Alive proved Ormerod had an original bent of mind when it came to constructing locked room puzzles. The former handily linked the solution for an impossible disappearance to the presence of two bodies in a bolted, long-forgotten basement room on a construction site, while the latter is a galore of false solutions to the problem of a vanishing magician from a locked tower room. And an unusual true solution. By comparison, the impossible crime from An Open Window is much more conventional and falls squarely in the tradition of John Dickson Carr, G.K. Chesterton and Edward D. Hoch. So the locked room-trick still has some flashes of imagination, but there were parts that were slightly unconvincing and the clue of the blood in the conservatory was unfairly withheld from the reader. Richard also missed two obvious possible (false) solution for the locked room.

So, purely as a locked room mystery, An Open Window is decent enough, but hardly outstanding or noteworthy. However, I do think the trick would probably have worked better in a short story or novella.

The murder of Walter Mann was not the only death in the family. Three months previously, Clare's husband, Aleric Tolchard, fell down an iron staircase at the factory and broke his neck, but the local police are treating his death as a potential homicide – eyeing Chad Leyton as the main suspect. Chad is the son of Walter's best friend and shareholder, Kenneth Leyton, and the boyfriend of Philip Carne's sister, Heather. All three were present at the factory when Aleric fatally tumbled down those stairs, but only Chad has a strong motive. A dispute over a brand new innovation in 3D photography Chad had developed in the photographic laboratory of Mann Optics. This reminded me of the revolutionary new formula for color photography from Maurice C. Johnson's sole locked room novel, Damning Trifles (1932), but here the 3D photography was merely used to provide one of the suspects with a motive.

So probably assume by now that I was completely unimpressed and An Open Window is certainly the weakest of the three I have read, but the story was not entirely devoid of merit.

An Open Window is completely focused on disentangling the various plot-threads and Richard has to be persistent to get even an atom of truth out of the suspects, because they either lie to his face or avoid him all together. There are very little side-distractions. The locked room-trick may not have shown the same ingenuity as in his previous novels, but the way in which he handled the altered will did have that spark of originality. Why the murder was committed two days after the change, is one of the central questions of the plot. Finally, Ormerod skillfully dovetailed the solutions of the explosion, the death at the factory and the locked room murder together.

An Open Window is an unevenly plotted, slightly overwritten and not always fairly clued detective novel, but the unwavering focus on the plot and some clever plot ideas balanced out some of its flaws – making it a serviceable, instead of a terrible, detective novel. So don't make this your first brush with Ormerod, but don't cross it off your list in case you like his work.

On a final, related note, Ormerod is listed in Robert Adey's Locked Room Murders (1991) with three titles, A Spoonful of Luger (1975), The Weight of Evidence and An Open Window, but Adey missed More Dead Than Alive and And Hope to Die (1995) was not published until four years later. Recently, I found Ormerod wrote at least two more impossible crime novels, One Deathless Hour (1981) and A Shot at Nothing (1993), and there may be more! This makes him a notable locked room novelist during a period when impossible crime mostly figured in short stories. Yes, I'm going to take a look at all of them... eventually.


The Locked Room Reader XI: Locked Out

Back in 2016, I compiled a blog-post, "The Locked Room Reader IV: The Lazy Anthologist," in response to an angry rant by JJ, of The Invisible Event, lambasting David Stuart Davies' Classic Locked Room Mysteries (2016) as one of "the laziest anthology of classic crime tales ever assembled" comprising largely of stories from the public domain – of which most had been anthologized countless times. JJ ended his rant wishing for someone to put together some "compendiums of unheralded locked room stories."

So I decided to play armchair anthologist and compiled a hypothetical locked room anthology, called Ye Olde Book of Locked Room Conundrums, with public domain stories that were never, or rarely, anthologized. Stories covering a period from Classical Greece to the First World War. Three months later, JJ made that anthology a reality and you can download it here (completely free).

There were quite a few locked room-themed anthologies published between The Locked Room Reader: Stories of Impossible Crimes and Escapes (1968) and the upcoming The Book of Extraordinary Impossible Crimes and Puzzling Deaths (2020), but there are some baffling omissions in all of those volumes. Since it was time for another, long overdue filler-post, I decided to compile another hypothetical impossible crime anthology with stories that have been inexplicably absent in previous anthologies – or simply deserve to be considered for future compendiums. I hope editors and anthologists who may be lurking on this blog will find this list helpful. Stories are listed in no particular order.

John Sladek's "By an Unknown Hand" emerged victorious in Times of London 1972 short story competition and earned a contract to publish, what would come to be regarded as, one of the finest, post-WWII impossible crime novels, Black Aura (1974). So a rather important short story that was collected The Times of London Anthology of Detective Stories (1973) and Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek (2001), but strangely enough never made an appearance in any of the locked room-themed anthologies. Sladek also penned a short-short parody of the genre, "The Locked Room" (1972), which amazingly has a story-within-a-story structure on a mere handful of pages. I think they're both perfect material for a future anthology.

D.L. Champion's "The Day Nobody Died" (1944) is one of the best impossible crime stories from the pulps, originally published in Dime Detective Magazine, which not only has a great locked room-trick, but a unforgettable cast of regular characters – headed by a mentally unhinged New York ex-homicide cop. Inspector Allhoff lost his legs during a botched arrest, resulting in a shootout, condemning him to live in a dirty flophouse, but his unique mind proved to be indispensable to his former colleagues. So now he acts as a special consultant under the condition that the man he holds responsible for the lost of his legs, Battersly, is assigned to him as a personal assistant. And enjoys mentally torturing the poor guy. This makes for a one-of-a-kind story and series.

Kendell Foster Crossen's "The Closed Door" (1953) is one of the earlier attempts at resettling the traditional detective story in a science-fiction territory and expending the plot into a full-length novel, or even a novella, could have resulted in a classic science-fiction mystery along the lines of Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel (1954). However, the story is still anthology material on the strength of the cheeky, but clever, solution to an inexplicable slaying at a Planetary Hotel constructed out of nearly three-hundred different kind of plastics.

Edward D. Hoch kept the impossible crime story alive during the second half of the previous century and believe he has had a short story in practically every locked room anthology published in the past 50 years. There is, however, one story in particularly that deserves to be anthologized, "The Case of the Modern Medusa" (1973). A brilliant little gem taking place against the backdrop of a Mythology Fair, in Switzerland, where a man is stabbed to death in a small, crammed and locked office-room with a trident. The explanation for this little locked room riddle is one of Hoch's most creative and original!

I also recommend anthologists take a gander at Hoch's "Circus in the Sky" (2000), in which he found a logical explanation for the fantastical problem of man shredded to death on the top-floor room of a high-rise office by bloody claw-marks – as if a lion had appeared out of nowhere and then vanished. A new kind of impossible crime for a new century!

J.A. Konrath's "With a Twist" (2005) can also be labeled as a new kind of locked room story for a new century with a highly unconventional, but innovative, approach to the locked room problem. A lover of mysteries, games and puzzles decided to take his own live, but his elaborately staged suicide seems to defy any logical explanation and poses a challenge to the police. Christian, of Mysteries, Short and Sweet, even called the story "a modern classic of the genre." It certainly deserves to be anthologized.

Frederic Anderson's "Big Time" (1927) is a peculiar, little-known impossible crime tale, collected in Book of Murder (1930), which was overlooked by Robert Adey in Locked Room Murders (1991), but has a delightful solution for an utterly bizarre murder in a locked room. Something you would expect from Edmund Crispin.

Speaking of the devil, Crispin also wrote a short story rarely recognized as a locked room yarn, namely "A Country to Sell" (1955), collected in the posthumously published Fen Country: Twenty-Six Stories (1979) and takes place during the Cold War – as vital pieces of information are leaked from locked and secure room. Admittedly, the technical aspects of the solution makes the story a little dated, but still presents the reader with something a little off the beaten track.

Herbert Resnicow was a civil engineer who brought his drafting pencil to the detective story in the 1980s and brought something never seen before to the (Western) impossible crime tale: large-scale, architectural mysteries that turned whole floors or entire buildings into tightly locked crime scenes. The Gold Deadline (1984) and The Dead Room (1987) are classic examples of this. Resnicow wrote only one short, but very charming, locked room mystery, "The Christmas Bear" (1990), in which a great-grandmother explains how a teddy bear could have taken from the top row of a rickety shelf.

During the mid-1920s, the Father of the Japanese Detective Story, Edogawa Rampo, wrote two short stories as a response to critics who claimed it was impossible to set a Western-style locked room mystery in the wood-and-paper house of Japan – showing it was possible in "D zaka no satsujin-jiken" ("The Case of the Murder on D. Hill," 1925). However, the solution to the locked room problem was routine and uninspired. Something he would improve with a classic example of the inverted impossible crime story, "Yaneura no sanposha" ("The Stalker in the Attic," 1925), which is the earliest Japanese story to incorporate unusual architectural features into its plot. A corner stone story that deserves to be absorbed into a Western locked room anthology!

A more modern examples are Soji Shimada's "Hakkyō-suru jūyaka" ("The Executive Who Lost His Mind," 1984) and Takemaru Abiko's "Ningyou wa tent de suiri suru" ("A Smart Dummy in the Tent," 1990). The former is the utterly bizarre done correct with the problem of a body decomposing at a supernatural speed and the latter is in a more lighthearted vein with an impossible murder in a carnival tent, which has a satisfyingly simple, but original, explanation and unusual protagonist – a ventriloquist with a split personality. Both of these stories would make fine additions to any locked room anthology.

Back in 2013, I compiled a small list with real-life examples of the locked room mystery, entitled "Out of the Tidy, Clipped Maze of Fiction," which included a case solved by a well-known magician, John Scarne. A puzzling problem how horse race results could have leaked into a locked, soundproof room where a bookie entertained his customers and encouraged them to bet on horses. Two months later, I accidentally came across a fictionalized account of the case written by Richard Curtis, "Odd Bodkins and the Locked Room Caper" (1969), who added a very well done false-solution to the plot. The result is an excellent detective story with an interesting back-story.

Arthur Porges produced two all-time classics of the impossible crime stories, "No Killer Has Wings" (1961) and "Coffee Break" (1964), but one story anthologists should consider including in a future volume is "The Unguarded Path" (1963). A devilishly clever story with an unconventional, but original, premise: a murder has to be prevented with the victim locked up in tightly guarded house. The solution is a completely new take on the macabre Judas window from Carter Dickson's The Judas Window (1938). Other stories by Porges worth considering are "Dead Drunk" (1959), "Horse Collar Homicide" (1960) and "The Scientist and the Wife Killer" (1966).

Theodore Roscoe is known to locked room readers as the author of the brilliant Murder on the Way! (1935) and the much lesser-known I'll Grind Their Bones (1936), but, during the 1930s, he also wrote a series for Argosy about a small town full of criminal intent, Four Corners – which may have inspired Ellery Queen's Wrightsville (Calamity Town, 1942) and Shinn Corners (The Glass Village, 1954). One of the stories in the series, "I Was the Kid With the Drum" (1937), is an excellent impossible crime story about a phantom drummer and an impossible disappearance.

James Holding's "The Japanese Card Mystery" (1965) has a plot along the lines of Crispin's "A Country to Sell" and Curtis' "Odd Bodkind and the Locked Room Caper" with the impossible leakage/transmission of information as its central plot-point and there are multiple false-solutions given to the problem. A shamefully overlooked story!

Historically, Max Rittenberg's "The Invisible Bullet" (1914) is another woefully forgotten, unappreciated locked room story about an impossible shooting in a fencing saloon on the top-floor or a high-rise building and the solution shows the kind of ingenuity often lacking in detective stories from that period – a solution that in some ways the works of John Dickson Carr, Alan Green and Clayton Rawson. One of the best locked room mysteries from the 1910s.

The premise and solution to Max Afford's "The Vanishing Trick" (1948) could have easily been the plot of Jonathan Creek episode (c.f. Ghosts' Forge, 1999) with someone miraculously disappearing from a hungry room with an appetite for humans. Admittedly, this is a very minor locked room mystery, but Afford came up with a splendidly original solution and cleverly planted one of those tell-tale clues.

Robert Arthur is the creator of The Three Investigators and wrote a collection of short detective stories for Young Adults, Mystery and More Mystery (1966), which probably explains why the crown jewel from that collection, "The Glass Bridge," has never been acknowledged as a locked room classic! A semi-inverted mystery centering on the question how a gravely-ill, physically weak man could have murdered a woman and made her body vanish into thin air. Xavier Lechard, of At the Villa Rose, is the only other one who recognized its greatness. And placed it on his list of twelve favorite short stories.

Finally, I want to submit a recently translated story from my neck of the woods, Anne van Doorn's "De dichter die zichzelf opsloot" ("The Poet Who Locked Himself In," 2017), in which a poet apparently killed himself behind the locked door of a log cabin in the woods. The plot is entirely focused on proving this was a case of murder. So a pure, John Rhode-like, howdunit centered around a sealed room puzzle and therefore a fitting story for a locked room anthology.

I believe this constitutes as a pretty strong selection of unheralded locked room stories, but, since these stories have already been crossed off my list, I would like to end this bloated filler-post with a modest wish list – comprising of obscure, hard-to-find stories that sound interesting. I'll keep it as short as possible. :)

Anthony Abbot's "About the Disappearance of Agatha King" (1932). Herbert Brean's "The Man Who Talked with Spirits" (1951) and "Nine Hours Late on Opening Run" (1954). Vincent Cornier's "Dust of Lions" (1933). Arlton Eadie's "The Clue from Mars" (1924). Bruce Elliott's "Death Paces the Widow's Walk" (1944). Allan Vaughan Elston's "The Shanghaied Ship" (1933). Alfred Feeny's "The Mystery of the Round House" (1906). Wilson S. Freesland's "Treachery Tarmac" (1932). Vincent Griffin's "Martin Speed Unveils the Invisible Death" (1957). Rex Hardinge's "The Cinema Murder Mystery" (1927). Bruce D. Pelletier's "The Hedgehog and the Fox" (1961). Edgar D. Smith's "Killer in Khaki" (1948). Leonard Thompson's "Close Shave" (1946) and "Squeeze Play" (1946). And pretty much everything that hasn't been anthologized, collected and reprinted by Joseph Commings.

I told you my wish list was rather modest. Sure, I trimmed it down a bit, but, hopefully, this list will proof useful to someone in the future.


Death After Evensong (1969) by Douglas Clark

Douglas Clark was an English author of twenty-seven traditional, puzzle-oriented detective novels of the typical, post-World War II police procedural variety and, reportedly, the plots often employed ingenious poisoning methods – a heritage from his days as an executive of a pharmaceutical company. Clark used to be a popular writer and his books were easy to come by.

The late Noah Stewart noted in a 2015 blog-post, "200 authors I would recommend (part 4)," that "you couldn't be in a used bookstore without finding a stack of them," but "now they seem to have disappeared." Curt Evans discussed Clark in 2016 and gave as a reason that the books "having been out-of-print now for over a quarter-century." Somehow, mystery writers from the second half of the 20th century, no matter how good or popular they were, seem to fall harder and faster into obscurity than their Golden Age counterparts. At least, that's how it looks to me.

Last year, Endeavour Media reissued a large chunk of Clark's Superintendent George Masters and Inspector Bill Green series, but, while certainly praise worthy, the editions from this publishers come with a drab, gloomy and generic style of cover-art – which they slap on all their crime-and detective novels. These uniform covers makes it very hard to differentiate between their classic reprints and the more contemporary stuff. Or mistake one of their classic reprints for a modern thriller. Just take a gander at the covers of their editions of John Russell Fearn, Roger Ormerod, Shelley Smith and Gerald Verner. So you have to know what exactly you're looking for when delving into their catalog, but enough complaining for one day.

I picked up the second title in the series, Death After Evensong (1969), because Robert Adey listed it in Locked Room Mysteries (1991) with an intriguing sounding impossible crime and seemed like an interesting follow up to my previous read, Christopher Bush's The Case of the Dead Shepherd (1934). Well, I wasn't wrong.

The setting of Death After Evensong is a bleak, desolate and isolated village, Rooksby-le-Soken in East Anglia, which (surprisingly!) turned out to be a Dutch enclave, who are the descendants of the Dutch that introduced land-reclamation methods to the English – only they have clung to the austere, Calvinistic Protestant traditions of their ancestors. A village of frugal, gloomy and often rude, but hard working, people with "an unenviable reputation for early, shot-gun marriages" and a deeply ingrained distrust of outsiders.

Herbert "Gobby" Parseloe was the devious-minded, universally unpopular and even hated vicar of Rooksby-le-Soken. A practically penniless clergy who "stooped to the meanest and dirtiest tricks to gain his own ends." Usually, Parsloe's schemes were related to money, or rather, how not spend a single dime. But the tradesmen of the village were simple, hard-headed people that "wouldn't wait for money from Father Peter himself." So there were more than enough people who could drink his blood.

The old Church School was closed down after Christmas and had moved to a new building, but the former school was let to a potato factory as a dispatch store. So there were local tradesmen busy with turning classrooms into offices and making a loading bay out of the school hall, but, when they return to work on Monday morning, they discover the body of the hated Parseloe in one of the classrooms with a gunshot wound to the chest – a single bullet had gone right through him. The wall behind the vicar was a mess of blood, tissue and bone, but "bore no sign of a bullet hole or pock mark of any kind." As if the bullet had vanished into thin air when leaving the body. A magic bullet!

So the local police immediately called Scotland Yard for assistance and they dispatched their two best men, Superintendent George Masters and Inspector Bill Green. However, they're a little different from most protagonists you find in these kind of post-WWII police procedural series.

Masters and Green have, what you might call, incompatible personalities and there's no love lost between them. It was their misfortune always "to be officially paired for murder enquiries."

Masters is a tall, intelligent and vain man who, as a bachelor, can afford to spend money on clothes as a way to fly "a personal flag among a group of conformists," which made Green feel inferior and awkward. So they were uncomfortable in each other's company and very few words were wasted between them. This is a good way to (slightly) alter the dynamics between the detective-characters without dragging their personal demons, kicking and screaming, into the story and their animosity has all the potential for them become rival detectives (of sorts) – something seldom used in Western detective stories. Something I referred to in my previous review.

However, the dislike for each other does not negatively affect the case and they diligently begin to sift through the evidence, suspects and a dozen motives. Not always a difficult task when you're the ultimate outsider in an isolated community.

Firstly, there's the small, but dysfunctional, household of the victim. Cora Parseloe is the youngest daughter of the vicar and generally considered not to be very bright, but the poor girl was used by her late mother and murdered father as a house slave. The eldest daughter, Pamela, works as a teacher in a nearby town, but, during his trips home, she acquired a reputation as a relationship wrecker. She's basically a chip of the old block. And then there are the various victim's of Parseloe's schemes and dirty tricks.

Dutch edition
Arn Beck used to be the church warden, but resigned in disgust over vicar's schemes to pocket as much money from the church as possible. Jim Baron was the headmaster of the old Church School, but Baron refused the vicar a highly unethical favor and Parseloe ensured Baron wasn't to continue as headmaster at the new school, which took a big chunk out of his income. Harry Pieters is simple carpenter who also got screwed out of his job and the ironmonger, Percy Jonker, had an order for an expensive, custom made gate canceled. And he had vowed vengeance as recently as Christmas. There are a number of other villagers, like the proprietors of the Goblin and the father-and-son doctor team, who all have a role to play in the tragedy. 
Masters and Green have to lay bare a lot of well-kept secrets and some painful motives to finally arrive at the truth and, purely as a whodunit, Clark stubbornly stuck to the traditions of a bygone era when most of the genre had moved into a different direction – which makes him perhaps the last true Golden Age writer to arrive on the scene. I've referred to Kip Chase as a next generation GAD writer, but Chase seriously attempted to resettle the classic detective story in a modern-day setting. Clark had no such pretensions and you can find precious little of the then modern world of 1969 in this story.

Death After Evensong is dressed up as a police procedural, but acts as an old-fashioned detective novel, reminiscent of Freeman Wills Crofts and Francis Vivian, with an excellent and genuinely original impossible crime. The explanation as to how a bullet can vanish in mid-air is one of the few modern intrusions upon the story, but what an intrusions (particularly on Parseloe)! Something John Rhode would have approved of.

So, all in all, I've practically nothing to complain or nitpick about. Personally, the bleak, desolate backdrop of a Dutch enclave, frozen in time, fascinating and appreciated that not all of the Dutch names were butchered. A pesky habit of Americans. The who-and why of the murder were satisfyingly worked out, but the solution to the problem of the magic bullet is what makes Death After Evensong truly noteworthy as a detective story. Highly recommended!

Well, I have been on a hot streak these past two months when it comes to picking mystery novels and short detective stories. There were one or two duds, but overall, the last months have been golden! Hopefully, I haven't jinxed my next read with this acknowledgment. :)


The Case of the Dead Shepherd (1934) by Christopher Bush

Christopher Bush retired in 1931 from teaching in order to dedicate himself full-time to his writing career and his twelfth detective novel, The Case of the Dead Shepherd (1934), was drawn from his own experiences as a teacher, but, as Curt Evans observed, Bush was "rather glad" to leave the classroom behind him – if judged by the "comments made in his detective novels" (e.g. The Perfect Murder Case, 1929). The Case of the Dead Shepherd gives the reader a depressing and sullen picture of school-life, but with a top-of-the-class plot!

The Case of the Dead Shepherd was published in the U.S. as The Tea Tray Murders and begins when Superintendent George "The General" Wharton invited Ludovic Travers to accompany him to the dismal Woodgate Hill County School.

Woodgate Hill County School is a co-educational school, housed in "a jail-like building" with a nine-foot wall, where one of the masters has been found poisoned in the masters' common room. A young pupil was sent down to fetch some papers, but found the master, Charles Tennant, "crawling on his hands and knees." But when the boy returned with help, the master had died. Curiously, he had been tightly clutching "a perfectly enormous catalogue" of "chemical and physical apparatus" from 1910. A dying message?

Charles Tennant was "the only really cheerful person on the staff" and enlivened faculty meetings by infuriating the despised headmaster, Lionel Twirt, who's a lazy, ego-driven tyrant and self-appointed shepherd with "the habit of haranguing the school on every possible occasion" – making his removal a popular subject of discussion among the teachers. Travers and Wharton have good reasons to believe that the oxalic acid in the sugar bowl was intended to kill the unpopular headmaster. A hypothesis that seems to be confirmed when Twirt's body is found on the school grounds with his skull caved in!

A note for the curious: oxalic acid is not a poison you often come across in detective stories and know of only two, oddly-linked examples, C.H.B. Kitchin's Death of My Aunt (1929) and Richard Hull's The Murder of My Aunt (1934), of which the latter was published in the same year as The Case of the Dead Shepherd. However, Bush is the only one who found a truly clever way to employ this unusual poison (see the ink-mark clue). Anyway, back to the story!

Travers and Wharton take their time to track everyone's movements at the time of the murders, testing those pesky alibis and questioning anyone even remotely linked to the case. And the list of suspects they have to consider is a long one.

There's the always helpful Maitland Castle, a senior master, who's the odds-on favorite to succeed Twirt as headmaster, but he refuses to consider it. Mr. Godman is a junior language master who had suggested it would be easy "to drop some poison" in the headmaster's tea. Miss Holl is a geography teacher and is, what the novelists call, "sex-starved" without a solid alibi. Miss Gedge, or Ma Gedge, is "a bitch of authentic pedigree" who always cuts her classes to gossip with Twirt. Young Furrow had offered his assistance to frame those two for indecent behavior, but was away from the school to attend a wedding at the time of the murders. The daughter of the local police inspector, Miss Daisy Quick, is a secretary at the school and the murdered headmaster had shifted practically all of his daily work on Miss Quick, which gave him more time "to think of still more schemes" – or simply harassing his staff. Such as the groundsman, Vincent, who was regularly threatened with the sack and the caretaker, Flint, has gone missing around the time of the murders. And to complicate the case even further, they even have to consider a few outsiders. A school governor, Mr. Sandyman, was invited by the headmaster to see him on a most particular business and the mysterious Indian visitor, Mr. Mela Ram.

A cast filled to the brim with potential murderers, but there are many more plot-threads to be tidied up. Such as why Mela Ram disappeared or why a shed was burglarized just to empty a pail of water. Or why Tennant was lugging around a heavy, outdated catalogue around when he was dying. And the solutions to most of these questions show why I love Bush so much.

I mentioned in my review of The Case of the Platinum Blonde (1944) that nobody has nailed the relationship between the amateur and professional detective quite like Bush. The Case of the Dead Shephard is a good example of Travers and Wharton each solving a piece of the puzzle. Wharton masterfully explains the clever poisoning method used to kill Tarrent and Travers destroyed the rock-solid alibi in the headmaster's murder, but it was Travers' manservant, Palmer, who helped him figure out the meaning of the dying message (of sorts). I find this teamwork between different kind of detectives a pleasing approach to the detective story, but, like rival detectives, something you sadly only find with any regularity in anime-and manga mysteries.

So, all in all, The Case of the Dead Shepherd was a pleasant return to those tricky, clockwork-like plots of early Bush, but, as devilish complex as the story appears on the surface, the overall solution to the murders is marvelously simplistic with all of the plot-threads neatly tied up in the end. Recommended!