First published: UK, Heinemann, 1929; US, Doubleday, 1929
“Dear Sir: I am going to commit a murder—”
That was the beginning of the first of the famous Marius letters which set the police by the ears in the Perfect Murder Case. And before the crime itself came others, giving Scotland Yard the date, the district and the sex of the victim. A murderer who can bring off a crime with such a flourish as that (for he did bring it off) is a murderer worth watching, and whether he will accomplish the still more difficult feat of escaping detection by the police and by yourself is a question which makes the story a thinking one. There are four obvious suspects, each with a strong motive, each with a water-tight alibi. This is the Perfect Murder.
“Dear Sir: I am going to commit a murder—”
In his first letter to Scotland Yard “Marius” announced that he was going to commit a perfect murder. In his second letter he announced the time he would commit it. In his third letter he announced the place. The authorities took every precaution. But at 7:37 P.M. on the specified night the Perfect Murder was accomplished fact. Years of planning lay behind it – even a preliminary murder, committed by way of practice. The killer had thought of everything – except the tenacity of ex-detective John Franklin, whose one thought now was “Hang ‘Marius’.”
Solidly constructed, with a well worked out plot, and good detection: clever deductions from a soiled letter, and, in what amounts to a Carrian locked room murder, a window. It’s the most heavily Croftsian of all Bush’s books: the victim’s four nephews all have cast-iron alibis; trailing of suspects; trips to France (Provence), one by Superintendent Wharton and one by Franklin, following the main suspect. The murder and method are both revealed well before the end, and the final third is the search for proof—all very engrossing. I guessed the main trick fifty pages before it was revealed. The idea is the same as The Case of the Amateur Actor, and anticipates Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies by four years, which means it may be original here—unless Crofts used it?
Franklin plays a much bigger part than Travers—F. is the hero.
- In-depth police investigation at murder scene—fixes time (4 minutes)
- Stonewalled—investigation peters out in Ch. 13—police are baffled
- Villain lays false trail incriminating imaginary South African cousin
- Trip to France—c.f. trip to Italy in Dead Man’s Music
- P. 91: Bush admires Gaboriau’s Lecoq, ‘the most human and credible of the storybook detectives’
- P. 194: Chesterton’s preface to detective story about murderer introduced towards end
Spectator (6th April 1929, 130w):
The story is as intriguing as it is improbable, and it ends with a melodramatic thrill.
Times Literary Supplement (11th April 1929):
An ingenious gentleman, having occasion to desire the removal of a rather discreditable representative of the race, seeks to promote to the rank of a sport what would otherwise have been an unexciting and rather sordid crime. He flatters himself that the means which he has devised for avoiding detection is police-proof, and gives public notice over the name of Marius of his intention to commit his murder, even specifying the very day, the postal area and the police division which he has selected for the purpose. More than half expecting to be hoaxed, police and public await the result of the unknown’s boast, and when he calmly notifies Scotland Yard by telephone that he has kept his promise the hunt is up. Mr. Bush’s fox and his hounds are alike clever. The fox has shown real ingenuity in concealing his trail, the hounds show even greater skill in running him to earth, and the reader will accept the story of their hunt as an interesting proof of Marius’s failure to have fulfilled his boast that he would commit a perfect crime.
Books (NY Herald Tribune) (Will Cuppy, 15th September 1929, 150w):
Mr. Bush provides some capable sleuthing and exciting incident, but one well wisher hopes he will go more thoroughly into the subject of composition.
Bookman (October 1929):
A note to the newspapers and Scotland Yard indicating that a “perfect murder” would take place at a stated time and spot did not prevent its occurrence. But after many months of weary searching ex-detective Franklin got his man, only to lose him again. A good beginning and a swift ending.
The Perfect Murder Case is a study in alibis, and an unusually interesting study it is. All the points of the good detective-story are here: excitement, ingenuity, suspense, crescendo, and a satisfactory conclusion.