Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

Half a century of adventure begins with mild curiosity in a junkyard.

Two London schoolteachers, Ian Chesterton (science) and Barbara Wright (history), are intrigued by their pupil, Susan Foreman.

How can a 15-year-old girl know at once so much and so little? How can she have an astounding knowledge of chemistry, but be unable to tackle a physics problem in three dimensions? How can she mistakenly believe that Britain has a decimal system, yet know that a history of the French Revolution is wrong?

The teachers follow her home one foggy evening – to a police box, and her enigmatic grandfather, a genially malign old man known as “the Doctor”.

The first episode is something special. There is an air of mystery about it, a suggestion that the magical has intruded into the mundane world of 1963.

An ordinary blue police box – a common enough sight at the time – hums with power; it’s alive. It’s an impossible space: famously bigger on the inside than the outside.

For viewers at the time, stumbling from the dark, crowded junkyard into the vast, white, gleaming, brightly-lit space of the TARDIS must have been a shock.

And it’s a gateway into another world; it “can go anywhere in time and space”.

If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds, and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?

Where they land isn’t somewhere marvellous; it’s grim and hostile. A jungle where sabre-toothed tigers lurk in bushes; a cave full of smashed-in skulls; and a tribe that has lost the secret of fire, and huddle together in caves, freezing and terrified of the dark.

Za, son of the old leader, squats on his haunches, rubbing sticks together in a vain effort to make fire. Only the leader can make fire. Kal, the opposition candidate, thinks he should lead; he brings meat while Za does nothing. Old Mother, a crone with a face like Gagool, sits in the corner, mumbling jeremiads: “Fire will be the death of us all!” And Za’s lover Hur, like a Palaeolithic Lady Macbeth, schemes, and spurs on his ambition.

The story is grim and desperate in a way later Doctor Who will seldom be, with a headlong flight through the jungle, and a visceral fight to the death. The travellers are close to hysteria, and the Doctor tries to brain a wounded caveman.

It’s a far cry from exciting adventures with Daleks, let alone wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey shenanigans.

But nobody wants to have adventures yet. All they want to do is survive.

The Doctor is a scientist, and wants to explore – but when danger threatens, his first reaction is to escape. It will be a while before he fights the good fight for its own sake.

He is untrusting and untrustworthy; he doesn’t much like the people who burst into his home, and, desperate to protect his secret, he kidnaps the teachers. He uproots them from their settled, well-ordered lives, and throws them into the Stone Age, 100,000 BC.

Later companions will leap at the chance to travel the cosmos; here, Ian and Barbara are unwilling travellers. They long to go home, back to safe, predictable old London, vintage 1963. But the Doctor can’t control the ship, and there’s no way of returning. The teachers are cosmic flotsam and jetsam, adrift in the universe.

The travellers may slowly start to rely on each other – “Fear makes companions of all of us” – but, as they stagger back to the ship, grimy and exhausted, half-hysterical, all they want to do is get away.

But where they land next will be even more dangerous: a radioactive planet – home to the Daleks…


Serial A: “An Unearthly Child”.

4 episodes, broadcast: 23 November – 14 December 1963. “An Unearthly Child”; “The Cave of Skulls”; “The Forest of Fear”; “The Firemaker”

Written by Anthony Coburn & C.E. Webber (episode 1)

Directed by Waris Hussein

Produced by Verity Lambert & Mervyn Pinfield

Script editor: David Whitaker

Regular cast: Doctor Who (William Hartnell); Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); Ian Chesterton (William Russell)

With: Za (Derek Newark); Hur (Alethea Charlton); Old Mother (Eileen Way); Kal (Jeremy Young); Horg (Howard Lang)

The Upfold Farm Mystery (A. Fielding)

By A. Fielding

First published: UK, Collins, 1931


Blurb (UK)

Fielding - Upfold Farm
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

This clever Inspector Pointer detective novel deals with two strange murders which follow each other at Upfold Farm. A little brass box with a damaged St. Mark’s Lion on the lid mysteriously appears and disappears as each murder is committed. The box is of no value, contains nothing of value, and is not used as a message, but its position is directly responsible for the second death. It presents a perplexing problem to Inspector Pointer, but by skilful reasoning he discovers its meaning, and forms his theory. The Upfold Farm Mystery is one of his most baffling cases, and the manner in which he builds up his theory from the slender evidence at his disposal is a perfect example of detective skill.

 


My review

3 stars

I’ve had bad luck with A. Fielding.  A decade ago, I read her last book, Pointer to a Crime (1944), which was poor, and gave up on her first, The Eames-Erskine Case (1924).

The Upfold Farm Mystery is patchy.  Parts of it are well written, with a sly sense of humor, and vivid characters – particularly the roaring artist Scullion, who’s great fun. At other times, the writing is Victorian, or inept.

I thought how strained and pale he looked.  He was the kind never to forget that dreadful sight when he had turned with a commonplace remark to the girl sitting knifed to her chair back.

True; most people completely forget when they see someone skewered to the dining room furniture.

Then, too, the story is full of inconsistencies.  Chapman suddenly becomes Gladman at one point, and Supt. Gibbs apparently tells the story twice on p. 212.

The same patchiness applies to the mystery.  Think of the great detective stories; there’s always a terrific premise.

A collector invites four detectives and four murderers to play bridge. A mad archaeologist decides to find out what the Mysteries of Eleusis were. The Lord Chancellor is shot while acting in Hamlet. A corpse is displayed in a department store window. An invisible man walks out of a building, carrying a body. The murderer has a Mother Goose fixation. “O my God, Helen! It was the band!” Death on the Nile, on the Orient Express, in the clouds!

The murder of an artist in backwoods Britain doesn’t really cut the mustard, even when killed with a bolas. (Balls!) It’s not a very compelling problem. The middle section of the story drags. Towards the end, characters pop between England, Switzerland, and Belgium from paragraph to paragraph.

Things pick up when Inspector Pointer, Fielding’s series sleuth, enters, on p. 211 of 252. His cryptic remarks about the mysterious box are in the best style.  It held nothing, stood for nothing, was of no intrinsic value whatever, and was neither a warning nor a portent – yet a girl was murdered because she was known, or seen to have it in her possession.

The solution really is clever. It’s one of those where you go back and reread the relevant passage, to see what you missed, and how you were fooled. It’s as ingenious as a certain red stain on a trouser leg. And it all makes sense of that box, too!

I’ve come across the solution in other stories – in a Christopher Bush, I’m fairly sure, and certainly in a Carr and a Sayers, but this may be the first use.

 

Beau Geste (P.C. Wren)

Beau Geste 2.jpgAll I knew of Beau Geste was from a Goon Show episode.

SEAGOON:

Oh yes, about the three brothers who, having come down from Balliol School, attended a ball where their mother’s diamond was stolen, and rather than sneak on each other, joined the Foreign Legion!

GRYTPYPE-THYNNE:

Right lot of charlies, weren’t… er… I mean um, noble lads.

It’s a cracking yarn, full of “adventure, travel, novelty, spacious life, mysterious Africa, the desert, fighting, and all that appeals to the heart of romantic youth”.

Beau Geste 1.jpgI wasn’t expecting it, however, to open with a striking mystery.

A French officer comes across a fort in the middle of the Sahara. At first glance, it seems fully manned – but he discovers that the figures on the walls are all dead. Somebody has propped up the corpses of the soldiers.

In the centre of the fort lies the commandant, run through with a bayonet. One of his own men killed him.

Another corpse is that of a man the legionary knows, holding a confession of theft. But he could not have killed the commandant – and there is nobody else alive in the fort…

And a trumpeter whom the officer sent into the fort disappeared into thin air.

I also discovered that if I join the Foreign Legion, after five years I can become a naturalised Frenchman! There must, though, be easier ways of going to Paris than facing mutiny, murderous Touaregs, the cafard (desert-madness), and sadists like Colour-Sgt Lejaune, “dismissed from the Belgian Congo service for brutalities and atrocities exceeding even the limit fixed by good King Leopold’s merry men”.

There’s also a terrific last chapter, describing four of the characters’ journey from Azzigig, in the French Soudan, to Kano in Nigeria: “the longest and most arduous ride ever achieved by Europeans in the Sahara”. Disguised as Senussi (a Sufi order), they visit a tribe who live in a ruined city, and escape from the Sultan of Agades.

 

 

 

Special Assignments (Boris Akunin)

By Boris Akunin

First published: Особые поручения, Zakharov Publishers, Moscow, 1999; first English language translation, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007, by Andrew Bromfield


English language blurb

Akunin - Special Assignments 3.jpgA Jack of Spades and his fragrant accomplice; an eager young deputy and a fugitive countess; a game of cat and mouse and a series of savage murders: Erast Fandorin finds himself juggling them all in the new bestseller from the master of detective fiction, Boris Akunin.

In Special Assignments, Boris Akunin’s dashing and inimitable hero, Court Counsellor Fandorin, faces two very different adversaries.

The first is a wickedly mischievous swindler and master of disguise, whose outrageous con-tricks and machinations send ripples through the carefully maintained calm of late nineteenth-century Moscow. His calling card is the Jack of Spades.

The other is a brutal serial killer – nicknamed ‘The Decorator’ – driven by an insane, maniacal obsession, who strikes terror into the heart of the city’s slums, and who may have more in common with London’s Jack the Ripper than just a taste for women of easy virtue…

With twists and turns around every corner, and a cast of gloriously eccentric characters, Fandorin’s latest adventures test their gentleman sleuth’s powers of detection to the limit, and make for a fantastically entertaining read.


4 stars

I’ve really enjoyed Akunin’s historical detective stories featuring Erast Fandorin, the Muscovite answer to Sherlock Holmes. They’re a terrific blend of adventure, mystery, and high politics.

Each one is written in a different sub-genre; of the first half-dozen, I most recommend Murder on the Leviathan, his Agatha Christie homage set on a steamship, and The Death of Achilles, an exuberant thriller about a hired assassin.

Here’s the trailer for the film adaptation of The State Counsellor, the political thriller story:

Akunin - Special Assignments 1.jpgSpecial Assignments, number five in the series, is Akunin’s breakout book,: the bestseller that made his name in his native Russia.

The volume contains two contrasting novellas: a light-hearted caper story, and a grim serial killer story.

“The Jack of Spades” is fun. Erast Fandorin and his new assistant, pimply, jug-eared Anisii Tulipov, try to thwart the themes of the charming Rogue Momos and his girlfriend Mimi. Alternating chapters are told from the detectives and the crooks’ perspective, and all are in disguise – including, amusingly, Fandorin as an Indian rajah and Tulipov as a eunuch! Lots of twists and turns, and the story breezes along.

Akunin - Special Assignments 2.jpgYou’ll need a strong stomach for the other Jack story. I don’t suffer from what Paul Halter called Ripperomanie, so find REVULSION WARNING sliced-open wombs with squirming embryos, hacked-off faces, and (non-comic) cannibalism unpleasant to read about. Nausea aside, this is a tight, cleverly-plotted and fairly-clued detective story, with plenty of tension and spread of suspicion. But the subject matter and tragic ending make it one of Akunin’s less enjoyable stories.

The Crime Conductor (Philip MacDonald)

By Philip MacDonald

First published: US, Doubleday, 1931; UK, Collins, 1932


Blurb (US)

MacDonald - The Crime Conductor US.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Colonel Gethryn’s collection of cases is becoming unique.  “I want to know,” asks Dr. Hoylake, “how it is you get into all these things – in the first place, I mean.  Does the Big Four ring you up or something and say – ‘There’s been a murder at number one, High Street, London.  Just go and find out who did it, will you?  Or what?”

“Generally,” said Anthony, “or what.”  His tone changed.  “It’s a damned funny thing, Travers, there’s some sort of a hoodoo on me.  In all the cases I’ve been mixed up in, and the number seems to be growing quite alarmingly, I can only remember two into which I was pulled from the outside.  All the others I seemed to fall into.”

Hoylake smiled.  “Sort of crime conductor, what?”

Anthony nodded.  “You’re about right.  One of these days they’ll find it out and put me away for the good of the state.”

Shortly after that conversation a policeman appeared at Dr. Hoylake’s door.  A man had been accidentally drowned in his bathtub in a house nearby, and medical assistance was needed.  Dr. Hoylake was not gone long.  The dead man was Mr. Willington Sigsbee, the great theatrical entrepreneur and he had undoubtedly slipped in his bath, struck his head on a faucet and drowned while in a stunned condition.  Nevertheless, Dr. Hoylake thought Gethryn ought to have a look.  Gethryn did, although it was then three in the morning.  “Which is it?” Inspector Merridew asked him, “accident or suicide?”  “Neither,” said Gethryn soberly, “Murder.  Call the Yard.”

Blurb (UK)

MacDonald - The Crime Conductor
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Kristania on the screen!  Kristania on the hoardings!  Kristania in the skylights!  Kristania the prince of a million hearts!  And then Kristania in a murder mystery!  What a catch for the press; what a thrill for the world!  Willington Sigsbee, the man behind Sigsbee’s Revue, had succeeded in engaging and bringing to London Lars Kristania, the idol of the films, to appear in person with Anne Massareen in Harlequin’s Holiday.  There are numerous people who do not like Sigsbee for this, and Sigsbee is found dead in his bath.  Anthony R. Gethryn almost apologetically appears on the scene.  He has more to do than Mr. Macdonald usually gives him, but he does it even better than he usually does.  Mr. Macdonald’s characterisation and dialogue are always delightful.  This time he has gone into an entirely new world for them, taking with him the inimitable Gethryn.


My review

3 stars

I recently wrote that the Humdrums were ingenious, but rarely clever. Philip MacDonald has cleverness in spades.

In his best books, he tried to do something new. He invented the serial killer novel, and the “race-against-time-to-save-a-man-from-the-rope” novel.  He put the epilogue first and the prologue last, or told the story as a trial transcript.

Here, Colonel Gethryn writes letters to his wife, holidaying in Switzerland, narrating the case. He’s an agreeable, witty conductor on this crime tour. That, though, is the book’s novelty.

It’s a straightforward, conventional detective story. A millionaire theatre entrepreneur is drowned in a bathtub, and everyone in the house has a motive and opportunity. There are some good clues based on the order the victim’s clothing was placed on a chair; a reconstruction of the crime; and vignettes of the suspects à la Christie.

MacDonald found police routine a bore, so Gethryn summarises Superintendent Pike’s toil in a table. Barzun and Taylor, sticklers for orthodox detection, objected to MacDonald treating “good clues treated in a fantastically loose and garrulous manner”.

MacDonald, though, never commits what Carr called the unforgiveable sin of being dull. He’s a lively writer – and, as J.B. Priestley thought, the book “has great pace”.

What it lacks, though, is a compelling reason to exist. It was the ninth (!) book MacDonald published in 1931/32, and inspiration ebbed. There isn’t really a strong enough hook (situation), or a master idea (solution). It isn’t, in a word, ingenious.

“Though this quality of ingenuity is not necessary to the detective story as such,” John Dickson Carr wrote, “you will never find the great masterpiece without it.  Ingenuity lifts things up; it is triumphant; it blazes, like a diabolical lightning flash, from beginning to end.”

The solution – as Bill Deeck and Mike Grost have felt – doesn’t play fair. The murderer feels arbitrary. There are the roots of a strong, simple idea – SPOILER The murderer appears to be the catalyst for the crime; he provokes motives in others, but lacks a motive himself. We also dismiss him because our attention is drawn to another character, a handsome dark-haired man. (The murderer is blond.) The crime is theatrical; everything in the house is an illusion. END SPOILER But it’s unexpected without being surprising; few, if any, clues are presented, other than the murderer’s psychology, which we have to take on trust.

The 21 Clues (J.J. Connington)

By J. J. Connington

First published: UK, Hodder & Stoughton, 1941; US, Little Brown, 1941


Blurb (UK)

Connington - The 21 Clues
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

The Constable was content to call it a suicide pact.  All the obvious facts were in favour of this solution.  The bodies of John Barrett and Mrs. Callis were discovered in a lovers’ nook among some bracken.  Beside them was a pistol with Barrett’s finger-prints on it, and torn up letters in the handwriting of Barrett and Mrs. Callis were scattered about on the turf.  Inspector Rufford unearthed some puzzling problems.  Arrangements for the elopement of the couple had apparently been complete.  Why had their plans fallen through?  Why had they turned their backs on the railway station, with tickets to London in their pockets?  Why was a small sum of money missing from the bag in the wrecked car?  It was not until Sir Clinton Driffield returned from his holiday that a satisfactory solution was found, broad enough to include in its scope all the twenty-one clues, as well as the reappearance of the Jubilee double-florin and the fate of the shooter of cats.  Mr. Connington’s readers will expect to find all the clues honestly laid before them as usual, and they will not be disappointed.

Blurb (US)

Connington - The 21 Clues US
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

The bodies of a worthy prelate and one of his wealthy lady parishioners are found in a bracken patch somewhat famed as a lover’s rendezvous.  Torn-up love letters are scattered about.  A pistol with the clergyman’s finger-prints lies beside the body…

If Mr. Connington says there are twenty-one clues, you can depend on it that they are offered to you as they turn up and that they will add up to the solution of the case.  Mr. Connington has been aptly termed “the modern master of pure detection”.  Can you fit together the pieces of his latest fascinating mosaic of death?  Can you beat Sir Clinton Driffield to the solution?


My review

Confession: I gave up a quarter of the way through.

Let’s go back about 20 years, to me aet. 16 or so, addicted to detective stories in the same way my schoolmates were to cut-price hashish, the pleasures of the palm, or evangelical proselytism.

I was irked when I read Julian Symons’s Bloody Murder to see him dismiss Connington as a Humdrum, a constructor of mere puzzles.

I was lucky, you see, only to have read Connington’s best books: The Case with Nine Solutions (1928), with lots of juicy murders and clues; Murder in the Maze (1927), fast-paced enough to read in a single sitting at the National Library; the rather dull Nemesis at Raynham Parva (1929), more interesting in conception than … execution; and Jack-in-the-Box (1944), boasting a sinister mystic and a wealth of scientific slayings.

Three of those are, quite simply, FUN. That, after all, is why we read detective fiction; and if they’re not fun, why bother? (The epicurean aesthetic!)

They are, however, the outliers. Many of Connington’s books aren’t fun. They’re praised for methodical detection, solid construction, and immaculate logic. Not for zest, humour, atmosphere, or action!

Many of his 1930s books feature police detection, murders in suburbia, and flat prose. Even the better books from this period – The Castleford Conundrum (1932) and The Ha-ha Case (1934) – are absorbing , rather than exciting.

By 1941, Connington had been in decline for some time. In Whose Dim Shadow (1935), Truth Comes Limping (1938), and For Murder Will Speak (1938) were the work of a tired, ill man. His last two books, The Counsellor (1939) and The Four Defences (1940), were failed attempts to rekindle his inspiration by writing about a new detective – a witty, wealthy radio host.

The 21 Clues returns to Sir Clinton Driffield – although I stopped reading before he appeared. What we do get, though, is a murder in lower-middle suburbia (chapel-going corpses); paragraphs in Cockney; police investigation; and a lot of tedious stuff about the position of bodies, tracks in grass, and fingerprints, all told in soporific, expository prose.

A glance at his watch showed that he had still a short time in hand before he could receive the photographs, and he decided to spend this in making a rough examination of the finger-prints on the Colt automatic. The pistol had been brought in carefully strapped to a board so that the prints had been preserved intact during transit; and, as it chanced, there was a very clear print on the exposed smooth surface of the slide, so clear that powder was unnecessary to bring out the lines. Rufford noted that it was a “whorl” pattern – that is, one which has a central core to its maze. By using a magnifying glass, he counted the number of ridges which intervened between the core and the nearest “delta” – a point where the ridges eddied away into subsidiary patterns – and found fourteen of them. There were two fairly prominent “islands” in the pattern, and eh counted the number of the ridges between each of them and the “core”, noting the relative positions of the three features.

He next took up the prints which he had made from the fingers of the two bodies. The designs on the woman’s finger-tips were all of the “loop” type, so he was able to discard them immediately. The right thumb of the male body showed a “whorl” pattern, however; and a repetition of the counting process proved that here also there were fourteen ridges between the core and the nearest delta. Rufford was able to pick out the two islands, also; and the numbers for them were identical with those which he had found on the pistol-print. The relative positions of the various features were alike in both patterns.

“Not much need to go further for the present,” Rufford assured himself thankfully.

I stuck it out a couple more chapters, and then agreed.


Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 3rd May 1941):

SUICIDE PACT?

What looks like a suicide pact soon looks too much like it.  There are more clues than are wanted.  Too many bullets have been fired, too many tracks disturb the bracken, too many proofs are provided of an old passion.  This plainly is the kind of fake for Mr. Connington to peel layer by layer like an onion.  The Counsellor, whom he established in his recent novels as an amateur detective with a promising future, does not appear.  Regular police methods make a thorough job of the investigation, a newspaper reporter helps and the Chief Constable puts the bits together until the whole series of events becomes as clear as though it had been filmed.  Calculating patience is
Mr. Connington’s chief characteristic.  At times he dawdles so calmly over routine detail that he exasperates, but this assurance compels admiration directly you are even dimly aware where his purpose lies.

 

Sat R of Lit (10th May 1941, 40w):

Methodical and painstaking investigation of ingeniously-planned crime should please those who care more for deduction than action.  Well thought-out.

 

Books (Will Cuppy, 11th May 1941, 170w):

Without stating in so many words that this is a fiction based upon the notorious Hall–Mills murder case, we venture to hint that the wind is in that direction.  Mr. Connington has veiled, adorned, elaborated and otherwise adapted the story with a goodly bag of tricks, including a most adroit substitution of identification.  He has also provided a fine brand of detection and an answer that exactly fits his version.

 

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 11th May 1941, 180w)

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 11th May 1941):

J.J. Connington makes a come-back to his best form in The Twenty-One Clues, a double provincial murder. Brilliant solution by Sir Clinton Driffield after thorough detailed investigation. The best Connington for several years.

 

Spectator (John Fairfield, 16th May 1941, 20w)

New Yorker (17th May 1941, 80w)

Manchester Guardian (E.R. Punshon, 27th May 1941):

Off with the new love and on with the old.  Mr. J. J. Connington in The Twenty-one Clues deserts his broadcasting detective to return to Sir Clinton Driffield, who solves an apparent case of double suicide which both he and the reader soon suspect was really a case of double murder.  The working out of the solution shows all Mr. Connington’s remarkable and careful ingenuity, a quality in which he remains unsurpassed.

 

Time (9th June 1941, 40w):

Clever, and a satisfying puzzle.

 

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 16th August 1941):

The Twenty-one Clues is old-fashioned detection (and quite adequate, but no more) solved by Sir Clinton Driffield in his prosiest vein.  Instead of probing the bewildering mountain of clues, many readers will take a short cut by glancing at the characters of the persons involved.  Sir Clinton can be trusted only to convict cads.

 

Booklist (September 1941)

Bookmark (November 1941)

A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989):

A poor repetition of the situation in The Case with Nine Solutions.  The 21 clues are in themselves ingenious and attractive, but the show gives itself away very early.  The doings of Driffield, Wendover, the inevitable “young reporter”, and a few yokel policemen are Connington at his worst and wearisomest.

W.H.T. dissents: By no means bad.  An apparent double suicide gives Insp. Rufford a chance to collect evidence but Sir C.D. has to come back from his holiday to put the 21 clues in order.  The plot is elaborate, but sound—there is even a rumour that it had its origin in the Hall-Mills case, q.v.

 

Mr. American (George MacDonald Fraser)

Mr American.jpgI can’t remember when I last enjoyed a book so much. I picked it up on Friday morning, and – even with a 12-hour working day in the middle – I’d read the first 200-odd pages that night. The last time I did that, I suspect, was when I devoured John Dickson Carr’s detective stories as a boy.

And Fraser, I’d wager, also read Carr. At the very least, they’re kindred souls. Spirited, often bawdy, raconteurs, with crackling prose and a rollicking sense of humour; enthusiasts for tales of swashbuckling romance; devotees of Dumas and Doyle; amateur historians; and Tories.

If you enjoy one, you’d enjoy the other. Fraser’s best known for the Flashman Papers, the memoirs of Sir Harry Flashman VC, KCB, KCIE, coward, rotter, and rogue, who romps and rogers his way through 19th century history.

Flashman appears here, as a very old man, but it’s not a Flashman story.

The protagonist is Mr. Mark Franklin, miner made rich and ex-gunman, who comes to London in 1909.

He buys his ancestral manor, is adored by the villagers, marries the angel-faced Peggy, and is involved with the earthy, loveable music-hall singer Pip, and with Lady Helen, a snooty suffragette.

There are midnight shoot-outs with a Western black hat, bridge with a petulant Edward VII, Irish gun-running, a trial, and a duel of wits with a policeman.

The book is also an elegy for Britain; it’s set in the dying days of the long 19th century, before WWI swept away the old Europe and the old certainties – a trauma from which, arguably, the West still hasn’t recovered.

The Case of the Leaning Man (Christopher Bush)

By Christopher Bush

First published: UK, Cassell, 1938; US, Holt, 1938, as The Leaning Man


Blurb (UK)

Bush - TCOT Leaning Man
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

This “Case” of Ludovic Travers and Superintendent Wharton is packed full of sleuthing excitement, during which three men die and the careers of four people are ruined before the round-up is accomplished.

The leaning man was the king-pin of the plot, all unknowing to himself, and because he did not know, he met his death outside a London theatre.

Travers soon finds a link between this case and the murder of a Maharajah, and is curious to know why the veteran actor, Sir Jerome Haire, is interested in both.  He soon finds out, and in doing so brings under suspicion Joy and Bernice Haire, Sir Jerome’s daughters and music-hall stars on their own account.

The travels of a priceless emerald ring also add mystery to an already perplexing problem only elucidated by the keen deduction of Travers and the patient unravelling of his colleague, the Superintendent.


My review

This is the one in which Travers’ wife, Bernice, is introduced.

Otherwise, unfortunately, it’s rather the mixture as before.

The situation is good; after all, who can resist a murdered maharajah in a London hotel?  But it puts one in mind at once of G.K. Chesterton or John Dickson Carr.

And Bush just isn’t in their league.

There’s some good detection, but the telling soon becomes nebulous and diffuse, with more theorising than action.

The solution is one that Bush has already used, at least once (The Perfect Murder Case), and would do so again (TCOT Seven Bells) and again (TCOT Amateur Actor).

And he had such a lovely dead maharajah to play with!


Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Percy Ashley, 16th July 1938):

The Case of the Leaning Man, if not exactly a vintage Travers, is good enough.  Ludovic Travers, although not without his little peculiarities, is not perhaps one’s ideal detective, and when his personal friends are involved in a murder case he becomes a trifle too meticulous.  In this case an Indian rajah of amorous habits is murdered, and a distinguished old actor who now acts four times nightly at musical halls and his two actress daughters are concerned.  The method of the murder is not entirely new, indeed Agatha Christie has used the device; but it will probably deceive those who do not know it.  There are hints that in spite of his long bachelordom Travers is contemplating matrimony, and perhaps Mr. Bush would not be ill-advised to pension him off.

 

New Yorker (22nd October 1938, 30w)

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 23rd October 1938, 190w):

Mr. Bush has produced another good detective story, this time with emotional complications such as the experts say should have no place in this type of fiction.  But the experts are not always right.

 

The Saturday Review (29th October 1938):

Old actor poisoned in London alley.  Indian potentate punctured in swank hotel.  Ludovic Travers connects two killings with fatal results.  Although on 2 points— 1 major, 1 minor—observant reader may outguess curiously dense Mr. Travers, story moves along quite pleasantly.  Standard Brand.

 

Books (Will Cuppy, 30th October 1938, 150w):

The Leaning Man is a smooth-as-silk affair, with a touch of romance for a chaser.

Slyartný znatruo fra burjós gelit?

Ludöz, j gharft mér ža rusko, fra géliţo heliço täxix: Agatha Christie, ý grast, wadu John Dickson Carr adep jikappa èërtý.  Réndop hagharf fruïon laťep heldor meëna öközel; ghařtu jäkk yalto, altoř wart zumzum wixen.

Poirot smirk.JPGYärpi?  Nen gat, laťép qadám dáliboř mann geerft.  Yartek taxix lönrend, šimtö, hołdor neenan – ghartu jalfor barlió splint!  Limier wreestwix?  Ghartü, qadep dreyus j neëczná ghartom, splentör daçit!

Fäç, lemst mi ný zlat, garstu j wräx.  Jemho türjien françti, parsti, błästu, himho, qod gartü za býlst sáqqàx.  Çästi flëert, yed çästi èërtý blenset.  Nastru zlómy ta verst, sadhu, dýutek qomod.  Jaxixo fel bärfu, stromsy, za golnarodnim, çërtý!

Sarte räbét zý na gharfu wens la barft?  Im glort?  Nadfek, j brénţu yador, hintu daçit zumzum.  Men fräk, jaxo hentex gastný.

“Ostobaság,” dixit Torkemado; “unë mendoj se kjo është e pakuptimtë, bënce bu saçmalik!”

Arbdu Ländra, gerfu 1937, mýn bélstor žlad marstór nerfít xazix.  Česţu, shantrý remst jäg zufleen, geltor hindeb j wert yaxx.  Shimstru berfen, glabor, bárieł fleben gelfst vardu andortz j gerfen.

Ladort týr zan gabor tünst defkt zamor, gäçitz joten – ador gelfrü zumuz ný zlat!  Zlatú?  Zabuz zumuz zlat!  Çästi, sadhet ya ghartet splintz ja ärswwixen.

“Ktokolwiek to napisał, jest wyraźnie szalony,” dikesta Dorothy L. Sayers.  “Xi ħaġa li ddum ma ‘żejt jagħli fiha għandha tkun riservata għal tormenturi tal-lingwa.”

Moore Saint gifFrençet, lemsţrý çästo darfet, gehmor, ný qasoz taxxix jelmýr j sha glört ta frien.  Mendort qasix?  Ga freen łemçak zagor hýl söçij taxxö frelp, vý zolnarodnü yartke – algor rül jašek.

Slemhort béërtz shýj lāğrts, nergol j maköp czest!  Ghart zųm bhäq fäçt!