The Body in the Bunker (Herbert Adams)

  • By Herbert Adams
  • First published: UK: Collins, 1935; US: Lippincott, 1935

Arthur Crosbie was not a popular member of the Barrington Golf Club. He had run for club captain, and attacked the incumbent as a ha’penny Hitler; Bill Broughley called him a cad, and refused to play bridge with him; and he was on bad terms with several others. And the girl Broughley wanted to marry, Hazel Grantley, was Crosbie’s semi-divorced wife, neither married nor free. So it was hardly surprising when a couple of golfers found Crosbie in ‘Hell’, his head smashed in with a hammer.

Herbert Adams wrote more than 50 detective stories and thrillers, many involving golf. (See, for instance, The Secret of the Bogey House, John Brand’s Will a.k.a. The Golf House Murder, Death off the Fairway, The Nineteenth Hole Mystery, and Death on the First Tee.)

Although not a top-drawer name, Adams was a reliable, popular author in the lighter vein. “Among living members of his profession there are few to whom nowadays one turns with greater confidence than to Herbert Adams” (John o’ London’s Weekly); “To pick up a mystery by Herbert Adams is to resign oneself to complete enjoyment” (Evening News). His admirers included Barzun & Taylor, Compton Mackenzie, and Frank Swinnerton: “A writer of excellent mystery tales… Mr. Adams has a firm, light touch… natural and full of character”. The half dozen I’ve read range from the entertaining (The Chief Witness, 1940) to the dull (Death of a Viewer, his last book, 1958).

The Body in the Bunker is the best Adams I’ve come across, and one of the better detective stories I’ve read for some time: an orthodox, well-constructed detective story. (There’s both a map and a discussion of suspects’ motive and opportunity.) The sleuth is a bright young (Jewish?) barrister, Simon Ross; he clears his friends from suspicion of murder, nearly gets done in, solves the crime from his hospital bed, and falls in love himself. The suspects might be functions rather than people – it’s difficult to find much personality in Hann, Farmer, Knight or Elkington, while Sladen has a beard and a Scots accent, and General Cairn and Major Escott have their military ranks – but the murderer is well concealed and obvious in hindsight. (There’s even a subtle indication early on: X’s golf is unethical.) Adams keeps the reader guessing, and constructs a proper ladder of clues (including a lovely reason for locking the heroine in a shed). Adams, one might say, knows how to play the game.

Plenty of amusing little touches along the way, including Sladen’s science fiction novel (about a world where women rule); the committee meeting in Chapter XII that descends into schoolboy argument; and a coroner’s inquest into a missing sock.


1935 Collins

Mr. Herbert Adams, “that great writer of thrills,” as The Daily Telegraph calls him, begins his latest mystery with a surprising discovery on a golf-course. One of the players is bunkered and finds his ball resting against an obstruction that ought not to be found in any bunker – a human body. That discovery leads, of course, to an intricate and exciting mystery, which Mr. Adams elucidates with enormous ingenuity. This is a story full of golfing interest, and therefore specially attractive to golfers – whatever their handicap – although it should be very popular with all readers.

1935 Lippincott (US)

Imagine watching your golf ball soar over the green into a deep bunker, imagine following it up with murder in your heart and suddenly finding it nestling against the elbow of a corpse—a murdered man!  And Sladen, the man who found the body of Arthur Crosbie in Hell’s Bunker, is one of the suspects, as are Hann and Bill Broughley, all members of the Barrington Golf Club.  Crosbie had not been particularly popular when alive and it seemed that various persons had motives for murdering him—and the opportunity as well, for Hell’s Bunker lay near a lonely road on which, about the time of night Crosbie was murdered, seven or eight persons were known to have walked.  Broughley, because of his interest in Sylvia Wilton (later discovered to be the partially divorced wife of Crosbie), is the most suspected, but his friend, Simon Ross, after a series of dangerous clashes with the unknown murderer, is able to unravel the mystery that surrounds one of the most interesting sets of characters Herbert Adams has ever depicted.

Contemporary reviews

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 9th February 1935): Another of these venerable defects crops up both in The Hobgoblin Murder [Kay Cleaver Strahan] and The Body in the Bunker, the improbability of physical disguise being successful.  It is invaluable to an author in difficulties, but it goes against the reader’s grain for the villain to be able to pass as the detective or for a son not to know his own mother if she wears a red wig and dark spectacles.  On the stage the device is as old as the stage itself, but there it is a comic device and the reader is not meant to be taken in.  But in a detective story, where the intention is to deceive not only the actors but the audience as well, the effect ceases to be comic, and is merely exasperating… 
The Body in the Bunker describes the fate of an unpleasant character on a golf links, with many pages of redundant love-scenes between the detective and a pretty suspect.  There is a sad lack of character among the members of the golf clubs, and I fear Mr. Adams is more interested by his lovers than by his criminal.

Observer (Torquemada, 24th February 1935): It is becoming almost part of the duties of the secretary of a golf club to provide a dead body somewhere on the course; but I do not remember any royal and ancient murder which has more appeal than The Body in the Bunker.  Mr. Adams produces a model detective story, breaking no new ground, it is true, but skilfully covering the old.  We make friends with the prime suspect conventionally enough, but thereafter, though we only have to deal with what might be called a single-shocker, we are led to that shock through quite a labyrinth, and our way is made pleasant by really amusing epigrams.

Times Literary Supplement (28th February 1935): Crosbie was not a popular member of the Barrington Golf Club, but several men were astonished by the bitterness with which Bill Broughley upbraided him during a squabble in the Dormy House card-room.  Among those who witnessed the dispute only Broughley’s friend, Simon Ross, guessed that Bill’s ill-temper might have some connection with Sylvia, one of the two attractive young women who lived in a windmill close to the course.  When Crosbie’s body was found in a bunker hard by the windmill Ross remembered his guess uneasily; when it became clear that the man had been murdered, and Broughley promptly vanished, the loyal friend set to work to save that foolish young man from the consequences of his impulse.  A skilful thriller that will particularly appeal to golfers.

Compton Mackenzie: Herbert Adams in his best form. He is always happy when he can season his crimes with plenty of golf.

Manchester Evening News: This mystery will be of the greatest possible interest to golfers all over the country.

Northern Echo: Golfers may get a special kick out of this thriller, but non-golfers who avoid it on those grounds will needlessly deprive themselves of a gripping mystery story.

Dorothy L. Sayers in the Sunday Times: A breezy tale of villainy. The dialogue is brisk and natural.

Books (Will Cuppy, 10th March 1935, 110w): Rather routine.

NY Times (E.C. Beckwith, 10th March 1935, 270w): The entire novel is so expertly and attractively constructed that even mystery readers unaddicted to the links should deem it perfectly suited to their requirements and diversion.

Sat R of Lit (15th June 1935, 30w)

A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): Allowing for the slow pace and ultrarespectable atmosphere of the thirties, this is a pleasant tale, with a good bit of golf, but not too much, and an entertaining clubby atmosphere.  Good dodge about fingerprints used by solicitor sleuth whom the official police respect beyond the call of duty.

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