First published: UK, Macdonald, 1952
The man who saved Henry Clandon’s life during the campaign in Sicily visited him once in hospital, gave his name as David Seeway, made vague and apparently pointless reference to somebody else called Archie Dibben and a country town called Bassingford, and then virtually disappeared. Eight years later something prompted Henry Clandon, now a director of a London publishing firm, to try and find his rescuer. This was how he came to be shown into Ludovic Travers’ office at the Broad Street Detective Agency. A routine enquiry that would normally be handed over to one of the agency’s operatives, yet something about it provoked Travers into making the initial moves himself. The trail he followed led by way of dusty newspaper files and the intricacies of theatrical gossip, to a pleasantly prosperous house in which a gentleman of military aspect had just died with his boots on. Travers polished his spectacles and put through a phone call to George Wharton at the Yard, for now there was a taker as well as a saver of life to find. The Case of the Counterfeit Colonel is something to satisfy the palate of the most discriminating crime-taster.
Quietly very satisfying—complex and well-paced.
Travers investigates two cases: the disappearance of one David Seeway, and the murder of Archie Dibben, proprietor of an employment agency with a side-line in blackmail. The connections between the two cases are interesting, particularly the way in which people involved in one case turn out to be involved in the other (e.g., the Caverley-Hares). In Ch. 16, Travers investigates a suspect’s alibi and discovers it’s been faked—a Croftsian alibi relying on transport (trains and cars), solved by questioning witnesses. What Bush has is a genuine sense of discovery (intellectual excitement). The sudden shift in suspicion towards the end is well-handled—but we still have a choice between two suspects: if A is the murderer, why did B construct a false alibi? And if B is the murderer, then why were A’s finger-prints on the door-handle? The solution is both surprising and logical—fits two halves of case together very neatly.
Note challenge to reader on p. 176: how is the piece of paper with Unstone’s name on virtually to solve the case? Bush has a sense of the ‘Grandest Game in the World’—of mystification, of challenging and hoodwinking the reader—which other Humdrums lack.
- Victim is actor.
- Theatrical background.
- Criminal scheme—blackmail.
· Mike Grost right about Bush’s technique of starting with very little information (victim’s identity) and working outward, lighting up the darkness—not a closed circle murder.
NY Herald Tribune Bk R (James Sandoe, 23rd August 1953, 160w):
It’s not a story to arouse anybody’s whoops of special delight, but in a day of slack-jawed writing, it’s a very satisfactory vehicle for relaxation.
The Saturday Review (Sergeant Cuff, 12th September 1953):
L. Travers, British eye, takes on routine search that zooms into murder. Opens nicely, but gets into heavy tangle; solution obvious early. Over-plotted, over-loaded.