- By Christopher Bush
- First published: UK: Macdonald, 1950; US: Macmillan, 1951, as The Case of the Frightened Mannequin
Who is trying to kill Camille Wesslake, mannequin second wife of detective writer Peter Wesslake? A bullet narrowly misses her; she is taken ill with stomach pains; and she is knocked unconscious by the hotel swimming pool. The obvious suspect is her husband, who may want to return to his wealthy first wife – but he’s at a P.E.N. conference in Copenhagen. Is something rotten in the state of Denmark?
Happy Warrior is a minor recovery from Bush’s depressing post-war run. (Of the seven books from Missing Men in 1946 to Purloined Picture in 1949, six are among Bush’s dullest or most obvious; only Haven Hotel is entertaining.)
The core idea (hajvggvat nppbzcyvpr vzcrefbangrf zheqrere va nabgure pbhagel gb tvir uvz na nyvov) is reused from Bush’s second novel, The Perfect Murder Case (1929); the ‘twist’ here is that the tables are turned, and the would-be perpetrator ends up dead. The murderer is well concealed, and there’s a clever misinterpretation clue (“He knows”); we can expect X to be acquitted, with Travers’s and our sympathy.
“At first it may seem an astounding coincidence that two members of a family group, and each unaware of the other’s action, should have considered it necessary to ask for the services of a detective agency, and the same agency at that. I think I can prove otherwise, and even if I can’t, the facts still remain. Alice Stonhill and Peter Wesslake did precisely what I have said, and what’s more…”
So Ludovic Travers at the opening of a case in which he combines with Bill Ellice and Superintendent George Wharton to solve the mystery of a novelist, his two wives, a murder that happened contrary to expectations, and the identity of the Happy Warrior. This is one of Christopher Bush’s crispest brain-teasers told in the smooth and friendly Travers manner that is now famous in two hemispheres and nearly a dozen languages.
New Yorker (30th June 1951, 80w)
San Francisco Chronicle (L.G. Offord, 8th July 1951, 50w): The solution may stretch your belief; the narration progresses at a slow walk. C minus.
The Saturday Review (Kathleen Sproul, 21st July 1951): Descendants of Victorian novelist consult uppercrust sleuth Travers, Scotland Yard collaborator, for they fear possible murder of ex-mannequin married into family. Murder comes but not as expected. Polite and possible cross-word puzzle of English manners, all wrapped up in nice fog of respectably allusive insular conversation, until the bang wind-up. Both stimulating and soporific.
NY Times (Anthony Boucher, 22nd July 1951, 80w): Ludovic Travers occupies an honoured place in the second rank of British amateur detectives and his latest exploit…is one of his better jobs.
NY Herald Tribune Bk R (2nd September 1951, 70w): As always, Mr. Bush’s novel is civilised but somewhat overburdened with petty detail.