The Case of the Happy Warrior (Christopher Bush)

  • By Christopher Bush
  • First published: UK: Macdonald, 1950; US: Macmillan, 1951, as The Case of the Frightened Mannequin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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 (ROT13: 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.


1950 Macdonald

“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.

Contemporary reviews

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.

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