- By Christopher Bush
- First published: UK: Cassell, 1939; US: Holt, 1939
- Availability: Dean Street Press, 2018
A swindling financier is released from prison and retires to a village – but the villagers don’t want him there. He spoils their golf. They plan to drive him out, but someone takes more desperate measures. Hanley Brewse is found in a burning barn, shot through the heart, and buried in a manure pile. A fitting end, one might think. Ludovic Travers takes a break from his honeymoon to investigate.
TCOT Green Felt Hat was Bush’s 20th detective story. Since his introduction in The Plumley Inheritance, Ludovic Travers has developed from a sidekick to Franklin into the lead character, and acquired a wife, while Franklin has disappeared. Travers would soon even narrate his own cases. Plumley was an atypical novel of return to civilian life after WWI combined with a jolly treasure hunt; it was followed by dazzlingly Baroque detective stories, with bizarre situations, ingenious alibis, and a playful (one might almost say Ludo-ic) delight in challenging the reader, mystification, and trick solutions (notably Dead Man Twice, Cut Throat, TCOT April Fools). From the mid-1930s, Bush moved towards the orthodox / Realist British detective story, in the line of Crofts; the alibis become quieter and the plots less sensational. Realism increasingly prevailed; the post-WWII books are soft-boiled private eye stories, hopefully with the cleverness and solid construction of the detective story.
Green Felt Hat is a solid English brainteaser, complete with a map of the village and a plan of the crime scene. It’s pleasant relaxation for a summer holiday; the reader can enjoy the company of Travers as he strolls through villages and rambles through the woods. Bush offers the reader a large cast of equally likely starters, many with (faked) alibis, and as always he has a sense of the game. Here’s the vital question, Bush tells the reader, and if you can work out the answer, you’ve solved the riddle. But the problem isn’t quite one of Bush’s best; the pieces fit neatly together (a fainting fit, a gun, an act of vandalism), the main clues point in hindsight to X, but the solution is sound rather than brilliant. That said, a golf player might appreciate it more; X, in fact, could have played a clever shot. Nor am I keen on how Travers discovers the Clarke connection; it’s disappointing that such a major breakthrough is the result of lucky questioning rather than inspired deduction.
Certainly Ludovic Travers’s most perplexing case, even though Superintendent Wharton was on the top of his form, and Chief Constable Feen painstaking in his spade-work.
It all concerned Hanley Brewse. There was no doubt he was murdered for his long-ago financial swindles, but who among his victims did it? And why was his green felt hat discovered a mile away from the burning shed where he was found shot?
The investigation led to many surprises. Trails which were often hot led to nowhere, yet Travers followed his hunch and got his man.
Observer (Maurice L. Richardson, 12th February 1939): The last two are straight detective stories, both good average specimens, carefully planned and written. In The Case of the Green Felt Hat Ludovic Travers solves a golf club murder mainly by a very smart piece of observation. Subsidiary characters, the secretary and colonels, etc., are lively and plentiful.
Boston Transcript (Marian Wiggin, 18th February 1939, 90w): Rogue’s Gallery found it impossible to get worked up over the murder of a swindler, anyway. Our major emotion was annoyance at the rabbit-out-of-the-hat solution.
Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Percy Ashley, 18th February 1939):
The pressure of competition among writers of detective stories is so great that authors must be constantly in search of new and bizarre settings and characters so that their stories shall stand out of the rut. Sometimes one is driven to wonder whether, if one had the leisure to strip some of these stories down to their essentials, the basic plot of the story and the intellectual problem which it offered would not appear to be decidedly ridiculous. For this reason a welcome should be reserved for a simple and reasonably straightforward story which presents a fair and intelligible problem to the reader without red herrings that are monsters both of ingenuity and fantasy. Mr. Christopher Bush has been writing this sort of story for a long time and The Case of the Green Felt Hat is one of his best. The number of characters is limited, the suspects clearly defined and the unity of the novel admirable.
Mr. Bush’s detective, Ludovic Travers, is on his honeymoon when the corpse of a financial swindler, recently released from prison, is discovered in a burning hut. Mrs. Travers is amiability herself. Both she and her husband have reached years of discretion and have no embarrassing personal problems to contend with. So she lets Ludovic go and assist the local Chief Constable in finding the murderer and later their mutual friend, George Wharton, comes down from Scotland Yard to lend an unofficial hand. There is only one murder, most of the facts which the police may reasonably be expected to know are available to the reader, and the full course of the investigation is described. The motive for the crime is not impossible, granted the fundamental coincidence on which it is founded. The characters of the well-to-do residents in the village are well drawn; but the novel is primarily for the reader who intends to try to work out the solution for himself.
Books (Will Cuppy, 19th February 1939, 170w)
NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 19th February 1939, 160w): Belongs on the preferred list of all mystery fans.
The Saturday Review (25th February 1939): Ludovic Travers, on rural honeymoon, uses knowledge of golf to solve murder of crooked and much hated English “share pusher.” Ludo suffers less than other fictional sleuths turned Benedick. Features of tale include likeable characters and tantalizing finish. Entertaining.
Springfield Republican (5th March 1939, 150w)
Scribners (S. S. Van Dine, April 1939): In The Case of the Green Felt Hat, Ludovic Travers, bespectacled detective of a dozen stories by Christopher Bush, makes his bride and her sister do quite a spot of detection for him. With their help he apprehends the murderer of a crooked stockbroker just out of prison, who unwittingly settles in an English village where lives a vengeful group of his erstwhile victims. The plot is nicely ramified and is solved with enjoyable precision and attention to detail.