First published: UK, Macdonald, 1951; US, Macmillan, 1952
When Ludovic Travers took over Bill Ellice’s Broad Street Detective Agency, he was glad to welcome back from war service the Agency’s star operative, Godfrey Prial. But when something happened to Prial whilst holidaying in an East Anglian town, Travers decided that a case had arisen which he must tackle on his own. The trail led him to a year-old murder, the violent death of a retired jeweller, the theft of some particularly valuable diamonds, to a mad Irishman and to a young lady who didn’t somehow ring true. Few writers of detective stories equal the skill with which Christopher Bush can handle a complicated plot in such a way that the reader can follow it without confusion and with a fair chance of beating the author to the post. What’s more his people are interesting in themselves as well as in their contribution to the plot. The Case of the Corner Cottage shows him at his most astute and entertaining.
Bush is clearly in his middle stage by now, for he has moved away from the elaborate alibis of his 1930s work to a style and approach resembling the American ‘hard-boiled’ school. Ludovic Travers runs his own detective agency, and vows to solve the murder off his own bat when one of his operatives is murdered – à la The Maltese Falcon. There is very little interest in finding out the murderer’s identity; indeed, we know almost from the beginning who the villain is. Instead, the chief interest is in the unwinding of a trail leading from the burglary of the corner cottage back to a murder and forward to another, involving a rather depressingly sordid professional crime milieu. Fortunately, there is plenty of interest in the second half (the first comes to a grinding halt but picks up again with what appears to be a rather staggering coincidence), the details all fit neatly together, and, although the reader will anticipate most of the solution, there is a neat twist at the end. Some Spadework.
Observer (Maurice Richardson, 15th April 1951):
Ludovic Travers investigates the disappearance in East Anglia of one of the operatives at his private detective agency, an odd raffish rogue-elephant of a hearty named Godfrey Prial. Trail leads to a jewel-theft plot. Some nice characterisation, including an impressively mad madman, and some neat plotwork. Travers, freed of the egregious Wharton, is loosening up and enjoying life a bit more.
Kirkus (15th November 1951, 60w):
Slowpoke but solid.
NY Herald Tribune Bk R (James Sandoe, 27th January 1952, 100w):
The crotchets of Ludovic Travers are less apparent than usual in this slow, palely ingratiating tale.
NY Times (Anthony Boucher, 10th February 1952, 90w):
Exasperating is The Case of the Corner Cottage with a ‘surprise’ solution which is at once over-obvious, implausible and brilliantly deduced by Ludovic Travers from a ‘fact’ concerning Catholic rosaries which happens to be flatly untrue.
San Francisco Chronicle (L.G. Offord, 10th February 1952, 50w):
Good specimen of the leisurely, soothing British school. C plus.
The Saturday Review (Sergeant Cuff, 15th March 1952):
Star op of London agency knocked off; Boss Ludovic Travers dogs killers, even wangling trip to Ireland; Yard picks up crumbs. Cast oversized, plot over-ramified, but story moves amiably without exceeding speed limit. Standard.