The Case of the Amateur Actor (Christopher Bush)

By Christopher Bush

First published: UK, Macdonald, 1955

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Amazingly fresh and readable, considering the late date.  Perhaps Bush had a second wind? The suicide of a literary agent’s secretary-receptionist causes three murders, two of which seem unconnected until Travers’s chance discovery of a photographic competition (chance pars in papers are a favourite device of Bush’s) puts him on the right track. The plot reuses the idea in The Perfect Murder Case (which Christie also used in Lord Edgware Dies; a character named Alton appears in both works), but is used to great effect: detectives and reader are sent haring down the wrong track, but the murderer turns out to be another individual altogether.

Blurb (UK)

There can be few people who would wish to go as far as to murder a literary agent.  Which one took the trouble to impersonate a well-known author and lure George Posfort of that calling to his violent end in an unlikely London hotel?  And why, about the same time, should Richard Alton, a nice young schoolmaster and gifted amateur actor, apparently disappear behind the Iron Curtain?  There were several possible motives for Posfort’s murder; among them an ugly rumour that he had been responsible for the suicide of his secretary Caroline Haze.  But Alton’s vanishing trick seemed altogether inexplicable until Ludovic Travers joined forces with Superintendent George Wharton—the ‘Old General’ of Scotland Yard—to arrange the pieces and show that what at first appeared to be two problems was in fact one.  Of Christopher Bush’s last mystery novel, Francis Iles wrote in the Sunday Times that it “might be held up as a model detective story on the classical lines: an original central idea, with a complicated plot to clothe it, plenty of sound, straightforward detection by a mellowed Ludovic Travers and never a word that is not strictly relevant to the story”.  Connoisseurs of crime will find the same qualities in The Case of the Amateur Actor.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 9th October 1955): First, a literary agent is shot through the stomach by somebody disguised as a dissatisfied author.  Then a young schoolmaster disappears behind the Iron Curtain.  Ludovic Travers ties up the two seemingly disconnected cases after one of his usual close-knit cosy consequential investigations.

Kirkus (1st July 1956, 60w): Deliberate but by no means dull.

NY Times (Anthony Boucher, 2nd September 1956, 60w): I flatly cannot believe a word of the final revelations, but the gradual piecing together of three apparently unrelated murders affords more solid detectival interest than most of Ludovic Travers’s cases.

The Saturday Review (Sergeant Cuff, 22nd September 1956): London lit. agent’s death baffles Investigator Ludovic Travers and Yard’s Supt. Wharton, who are ready to say uncle – when second killing, apparently unrelated to first, provides payoff; good, two-in-one job is among author’s best.  Nice brain-teaser.

Queen: [Two mysteries] which the author has very neatly tied together.  Mr. Bush also possesses a talent for unembroidered narration, his stories are always models of ingenious conciseness, and this one is no exception.  Read it, and see!

Eastern Daily Press: The writing is lucid, the plot ingenious, and the detection straightforward and thrilling.  One could ask for nothing better—not even from Mr. Bush.