First published: UK, Cassell, 1942
Once again we meet our old friend Ludovic Travers. He is in charge of Camp 55 and nearby is living the rather mysterious Colonel Brende – mysterious because he is in possession of certain facts relating to aerial defence.
Travers’s suspicions that all is not well are increased when Penelope, Brende’s flashy secretary, is murdered. Then George Wharton appears on the scene – the Scotland Yard man who has already solved some strange mysteries. In the rush of exciting events that follow, Travers plays an important part in solving the strange happenings.
Christopher Bush, Ludovic Travers and George Wharton at their best!!
Christopher Bush wrote four military mysteries, in which Ludovic Travers, in uniform, investigates a Murdered Major, a Kidnapped Colonel, a Fighting Soldier, and a Corporal’s Leave. These were strictly for Home Front consumption; they were well received in Britain, but never published in the US.
(John Rhode and Clifford Witting also turned their war service to fictional purposes.)
Major Travers – narrating a Case for the first time – takes over as Commandant of a camp in Derbyshire. There’s “hush-hush” research at a nearby establishment into fighting off night bombers, while a group of pacifists (the New Era Group) are weakening morale in town.
This doesn’t really work like a normal detective story. We’re not given a whiff of a crime until Chapter VII, and the corpse the blurb promises doesn’t appear until Chapter XII. Until then, we’re given plenty of information on army administration, guard schemes, night exercises, and air raids. Meat for social historians!
It’s all quite leisurely, and the bloodthirsty reader might wonder when the barrage balloon will go up.
The slow start is deceptive, though. Once it gets going, gradually, imperceptibly, it becomes a complex mystery. Why did Penelope Craye burn a notepad in the fire? Did Major Passenden, presumed dead in action, write the anonymous letters? Who burgled the Institute and the Vicarage, strongholds of the New Era Group? What does Corporal Ledd have on his mind? What are the three scientists worried about?
Travers himself is in the dark, until Superintendent Wharton – certainly not your stereotypical thick copper – puts it all together.
I’m in two minds about the solution. On the one hand, it ties everything together logically. On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s fair play, or whether a reader would be able to deduce the answer. Bush gives clues, but they’re all nudges, indications, or confirmations, rather than a dominant clue (…therefore X!).
There’s a clever twist in the last paragraph.
Off to watch Dad’s Army.
Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 28th February 1942):
After murdering a major last season Mr. Christopher Bush now kidnaps a colonel and sets us wondering what alliterative crimes can be committed against higher commands from generals to field-marshals. Curiosity is whetted by the aptness and neatness of his plots. The disappearance of Colonel Brende from the house where he is perfecting new means of air defence looks promising. All kinds of whys and wherefores could plainly be devised, but it would be hard to imagine any so satisfying as Mr. Bush’s. George Wharton’s reappearance as the detective is welcome for his own sake, since his character is well drawn, though it might be argued that the mystery would work out in much the same way whether he were mixed up in it or no.
Sunday Times (Milward Kennedy, 3rd March 1942):
Ludovic Travers is an old friend, one whose characteristics and looks we know well; and in these circumstances it is an advantage to find him turning narrator. In The Case of the Kidnapped Colonel, by Christopher Bush, he is Commandant of a war-time camp specially responsible for guarding a hush-hush research station. The Colonel runs the research; Ludovic knows the Colonel’s wife and his alluring secretary; the Colonel is kidnapped, the secretary dies; Superintendent Wharton handles the case. It is an interesting one, well written, supplied with good characters, its setting and military incidentals realistic. In short, a good specimen of detective-story fitted to war-time England.
Manchester Guardian (E.R. Punshon, 20th March 1942):
Does Mr. Christopher Bush, in The Case of the Kidnapped Colonel, tell of yet another of those stupendous war secrets which enemy agents so persistently and so unsuccessfully try to secure? Well, perhaps, but with a difference, no wonder Ludovic Travers is puzzled, and so will be the reader in this amusing variety of the orthodox spy story.