First published: UK, Heinemann, 1931; US, Doubleday, 1932
Mr. Bush’s new detective story is nearer to his first, The Perfect Murder Case, than any he has done since that successful book. Dead Man’s Music is a very ingenious, well-worked-out puzzle, and brings us into contact once again with our old friends Travers, Franklin and Inspector Wharton. The plot hinges upon the manuscript of a musical composition, “The Seven Cypresses,” and with this clue to go upon the reader should be able, if he is clever enough, to find the murderer of Claud Rook, whose body was found hanging in the attic at Frenchman’s Rise.
The thing that attracted Ludovic Travers’ attention to the curious affair of the hanging in Frenchman’s Rise was that the corpse – apparently that of someone who had chosen an empty house in which to commit suicide by hanging – had been shaved after death! But the thing that astonished him was that, after reconstructing the dead man’s beard through the ludicrous expedient of patching on hair cut from a goatskin rug, Travers found that he knew who the victim was. That brought him by devious ways to the musical theme with variations of the mysterious Mr. Rook, who bellowed at a woman who was not deaf, and seemed fond of certain curious clichés in his speech; to the matter of a famous gramophone company’s Paris broadcasts; and to the reason why it was absolutely necessary for a house to be sold to a gentleman named Lewissohn.
Christopher Bush, author of The Perfect Murder Case and other notable thrillers, has created in Ludovic Travers, of the great publicity (and private inquiry) firm of Durangos, Ltd., and his friend Wharton of the Yard, a pair of inimitable detectives. Dead Man’s Music is the story of their newest exploit – a case with danger at every turn and a strange and exciting denouement in the end.
A very early, uninspired Travers, in which the murder by hanging of a mysterious man is traced back to Italy. The villain is obvious from the beginning, so the detective interest lies in the following of the trail. Unfortunately the plot gets badly out of hand, and ends in a cluttered, impenetrable and improbable farrago of impostor brothers, false identities and mysterious Italians, all connected by a borrowing of the solution of Doyle’s “Resident Patient”.
Times Literary Supplement (10th December 1931):
Travers, a director of a private investigation agency, went down, some years before the story opens, to Sussex to see a man named Rook who had applied for assistance. He found Rook a most eccentric man, and the only tangible result of his visit was a music manuscript which Rook gave into his keeping. Before he goes, however, a man calls on Rook, claiming to be his brother, at the sight of whom Rook promptly faints. There seem to be indications here of rogues falling out, one hiding from the vengeance of a gang and being eventually tracked down. And that is just what Travers and his associates find in the end, after Travers has identified the carefully disguised corpse of the first chapter as Rook’s. The music holds a clue of sorts, but there are many other matters to be sifted before the final straightening out.
Sunday Times (17th January 1932):
AN ELABORATE PUZZLE
Dead Man’s Music is another thriller which is not without its legitimate excitements, though here, I think, Mr. Bush has been a little too elaborate in his staging. That, of course, is a risk run to-day by every detective-story writer, who is naturally on the look-out for some as yet untried or uninvented “twist”. In this story, so long as the mystery which surrounds Clarence Rook, his dumb housekeeper and his music, is being built up, all is very well indeed, but after his murder, and in spite of the cleverness displayed by Travers and Franklin, those admirable fellows from Durangos, one becomes increasingly conscious that the solution of the whole problem will be a little disappointing. And so it is. Nevertheless, Mr. Bush has one or two little surprises up his sleeve, and his book may well be put on your list.