The Case of the Fourth Detective (Christopher Bush)

  • By Christopher Bush
  • First published: UK: Macdonald, 1951
  • Availability: Dean Street Press

TCOT Fourth Detective was one of only two post-WWII Bush novels not to be printed in the US. Its rejection (?) at first seems surprising; the bulk of the book suggests it will be one of Bush’s better middle-period books – but one puts the book down unsatisfied, feeling that one’s rather wasted one’s time.

The heir to a grocery chain is shot dead in his Regent’s Park flat; for all his charm, he was a “bitcher-up” hated by everyone in his office. The business setting is fresh, there are alibis to check, and Travers gets to flirt with a fluffy secretary. Otherwise, this is a competently mediocre detective story, lacking creativity and inspiration. The suspects are plot functions rather than people; characterisation amounts to a paragraph of description in Chapter II or III, before we’re left trying to remember who or what are Drale, Dowse, and Winter. The solution uses stale old tricks that were well past their best in 1951, and that self-respecting mystery grocers didn’t stock:

(SPOILERS, I suppose, for those who care – but any vaguely alert reader will guess)

  • Electric heaters to warm the body and confuse the time of death.
  • A faked telephone call to provide an alibi.
  • A fake personality as red herring.

And the “fourth detective” (an old man based on E.R. Punshon) is largely irrelevant.

Try one of Bush’s earlier books: Dead Man Twice; Cut Throat; Unfortunate Village; April Fools instead.


CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 28th October 1951): The leisurely, consequential Travers, and his chum Wharton, reinforced by some more, tackle double murder behind the scenes of a wholesale grocery business.  Up to the usual snug standard.

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