First published: UK, Cassell, 1933; US, Morrow, as The Crank in the Corner
A synthetic golden-brown one, vivid red spots on the other and an unnatural pallor turning to a fiery red to complete the odd trio; those were the traveling companions who plunged that very active company director, Ludovic Travers, into such an extraordinary sequence of events that for once his brilliant and observant mind was employed to its utmost.
Here is a story of crime and mystery so subtly presented and so sustained in its vivid interest that the reader is held in thrilled expectancy as each strange happening follows close upon its fellow.
The opening section is excellent, describing Travers’s train journey from Toulon to Marignac in the company of several suspicious characters, two of whom die en route. Although we seem to have two seemingly unrelated murders (drug and domestic), Travers is able to prove the connection between the two. The delving into the past and the subsequent murders are well done, and there is a neat twist in the final few paragraphs.
What is not so good is the complicated plot that leaves loose ends trailing. We are asked to believe that two men should decide to commit murder on the same night without providing a catalyst (Dead Man Twice was careful to establish that an action of Michael France’s provoked the culprits into murder). The drug subplot is irrelevant; Mme. Olivet’s murder is never satisfyingly explained; and “Corley” is mentioned and subsequently forgotten.
One flaw in Wharton’s reasoning, though: it doesn’t hold that a layman wouldn’t know of stomach content.
Times Literary Supplement (29th June 1933):
Ludovic Travers, who helped to unravel an earlier mystery of Mr. Bush’s, finds himself by chance in a Continental express in a compartment containing several suspicious characters. The two drug traffickers and the disguised “League of Nations man” disappear early from the story—too early, in fact, for the story to hang well together—but there remain a murdered Englishman, his oddly behaved nephew, a too-well-educated valet and a Provençal peasant, who soon turns out to be other than he appears. The faculty of observation which makes Travers invaluable to his friends at Scotland Yard also leads him—and with him the reader—astray over essential deductions; so that the story, told almost entirely from one observer’s angle, is very skilfully narrated, though the reader has the opportunity, if he follows closely, of anticipating the solution.
Saturday Review of Literature (14th October 1933):
Ludevic Travers spends night in French train and catnaps through two murders, which worry him greatly. Great amount of very interesting but confused rushing around and somewhat incredible final deduction. Just fair.
Books (Will Cuppy, 22nd October 1933, 140w):
Easy reading—a Bush item of the better sort.
NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 29th October 1933, 250w):
The story is just a little too involved to be thoroughly satisfactory to the average reader, especially to those who like to be sure that the criminal is going to get what is coming to him.
Sydney Morning Herald (1st December 1933):
Christopher Bush probably wrote his Case of the Three Strange Faces as a detective story rather than a thriller, but there are thrills enough in this account of cold-blooded murders in a second-class compartment of a Transcontinental express. The description of this gruesome journey has been capably written, and the mystery is well managed throughout.