Murder at Fenwold (Christopher Bush)

By Christopher Bush

First published: US, Doubleday, 1930, as The Death of Cosmo Revere; UK, Heinemann, 1930


Blurb (UK)

 

Bush - Murder at Fenwold.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

It might have been the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy, but if it was, why did the dead man happen to have a circle of sand round his forehead where he lay, presumably struck on the head by the tree he was lopping, and why was there no sand on the ground round about?

 

In addition to this all-important question, Travers and Franklin, the famous couple who solved The Perfect Murder Case, had many things to clear up, among them the question of why the vicar seemed startled when he heard the news; why Cosmo Revere kept only men-servants, and why he had such a passion for reviving 18th century comedies of manners.  A detective story for the connoisseur.

Blurb (US)

 

Bush - Murder at Fenwold US.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

It might have been the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy, but if so, how did the dead man happen to have a circle of sand around his forehead where he lay, presumably struck on the head by the tree he was chopping, and no trace of sand on the ground around?  Why did the vicar seemed startled when he heard the news; what strange relationship was there between him and the fair Leila Fortescue, Revere’s niece; why did he keep only men servants in his house, one of whom always smelled abominably of turpentine, and why did he have such a flair for reviving 18th century comedies of manners?

 

 These were some of the problems that confronted Travers and Franklin, the famous pair who had solved, where others failed, the intricate tangle of THE PERFECT MURDER CASE, which had so startled London the previous year.


 

My review

If Bush were writing this a decade or two later, he’d have called it “The Case of the Felled Feller”.  There’s a fascinating look at below and above stairs in a country house from a the servants’ perspective.  Otherwise, not Bush’s best.  It starts well, but becomes hard to follow.


Contemporary reviews

NY Evening Post (Dashiell Hammett, 24th May 1930, 130w):

Another involved, cleverly plotted tale of murder, forgery and other crimes in rural England…  The book’s weaknesses are several unnecessarily tiresome stretches where nothing happens, the dullness of the two detectives—it is almost impossible to tell them apart—and a lack of clarity or vividness in the telling.

 

Boston Transcript (16th July 1930, 500w):

At times the tempo seems to drag, at times one’s interest flags a little, at times the story becomes a trifle too involved, but if one has a taste for a novel with a mediaeval flavour with a touch of the uncanny, if he has a flair for mysterious damsels, if ancient prophecies and beautiful old houses appeal to him, he will find them all in this tale of the strange circumstances surrounding the tragic death of the last of the Reveres.

 

Times Literary Supplement (22nd January 1931):

The murderer had a rather roundabout way of doing it.  He enticed Cosmo Revere under a tree and dropped a big stone on him, incautiously omitting to scrub the stone first.  Then he put the body so that it seemed as if a falling tree had killed Revere while Revere felled it.  Moreover, the murderer was already leading a double life, and a different set of rascals were already stealing Revere’s rare first editions and Chippendale furniture.  So Franklin the private detective had a difficult job, especially as he was forbidden to cause open scandal.  He suspected Leeke, Revere’s agent (Revere was a big landowner); Leila, Revere’s niece; Castleton the gentleman at large; Carter the travelling furniture dealer; Haddowe the parson with an unparsonic past and others.  Although Leila vamped every male she met, there is no real love-story; the interest is wholly detective.  It would be unfair to reveal the solution.

 

Sunday Express:

He does not expect you to be a specialist in bacterial botany or to know anything about nervous lesions.  All he demands is that you should be ordinarily shrewd and observant, whereupon you stand an excellent chance of solving the problem he sets.  An excellent murder.