The Case of the Benevolent Bookie (Christopher Bush)

  • By Christopher Bush
  • First published: UK: Macdonald, 1955; US: Macmillan, 1956
  • Availability: Dean Street Press, 2020

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Lord Tynworth – racehorse owner and trainer, and son of a Labour peer – hires Ludovic Travers, Bush’s lightly boiled P.I., to hunt for his wife, an ex-crooner who disappeared with ‘valuables’, which turn out to be the Lammerford jewels, worth £50,000. But there’s more to the case than meets the eye, of course. Lord Tynworth is in Queer Street; has he absconded with the jewels? Why has nobody seen him since he went to America? And why did someone try to shoot Travers?

I don’t know much about horses or racing (only the occasional flutter on the Melbourne Cup), but I know my “Silver Blaze” and my “Shoscombe Old Place”. When a main character is a racehorse trainer, and scenes are set at stables, one expects the writer to ride ’em for all they’re worth. There should be trickery on the turf – crooked jockeys, doped horses, derringers at the derby, arsenic at Ascot, and a thrilling dénouement as the riders gallop across the finish line. It’s horse sense. But Bush stumbles, and comes a cropper; the racing is negligible.

As Dick Francis might have said, Bush has shot his Bolt. There are some gems in Bush’s early work – try Cut Throat or TCOT April Fools – but I find his late work unsatisfying. Complex plots are told confusingly, and (quoting Anthony Boucher) the investigation is desultory and inadequate.

Telling everything from Travers’s perspective keeps action and people at a distance; instead, there is plenty of following people around, watching hotels, questioning theatrical agents, and operatives reporting to Travers by telephone. It’s dull.

There is no murder in this one until Chapter XII (p. 130 of 198), which makes the book feel even looser and more meandering.

And then the scheme is one we’ve several times before. ‘Old Mole!’ I exclaimed, somewhat taken aback by the revelation in Chapter XI, then immediately remembered Bush has played *that* trick before, and often (e.g., TCOT Curious Client). I groaned when Travers went hunting for an unemployed actor – a ruse Bush first used in 1929, used again and again (and from memory, again in 1943) since then, and would use yet again in the very next book, called (astonishingly) TCOT Amateur Actor. And would you believe it? the double turns up murdered (again). Bookie was Bush’s 46th mystery, and he had obviously run short of ideas.

The baddies are obvious from the start, too. Meh.

Don’t bother with this one; Bush is flogging a dead horse.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 24th April 1955): Ludovic Travers, cosily urbane as ever, employed by racehorse-trainer to find ex-crooner peeress, suspected of bolting with family jewels.  Fascinating developments, two murders and miscellaneous turf crookery.

NY Times (29th January 1956, 60w): Despite slowness and some anticlimax, this is well above Bush’s average.

The Saturday Review (Sergeant Cuff, 4th February 1956): Ludovic Travers, tireless London eye. hunts peer’s missing wife; success brings complications; corpses pop up late in day.  Considerable ground covered (but no meals missed) in unusually tangled cluster of adventures; some horses present.  For that long sea trip.

Booklist (15th February 1956)

San Francisco Chronicle (L.G. Offord, 19th February 1956, 70w): Male suspects all sound pretty much alike, which makes for confusion; female ones more interesting, give a slight lift to a plot which couldn’t be described as urgent.

Springfield Republican (8th April 1956, 100w)

Chicago Sunday Tribune (Drexel Drake, 13th May 1956, 100w): Neat puzzle enjoyably unveiled.

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