Case for Three Detectives (Leo Bruce)

  • By Leo Bruce
  • First published: UK: Geoffrey Bles, 1936; US: Frederick A. Stokes, 1937

Leo Bruce’s Case for 3 Detectives is also clever – easily the best book Bruce ever wrote. (I’ve read a few of the Carolus Deenes recently, and haven’t enjoyed them – plodding detection, recycled plots, and an absence of characterisation and charm – surprising when Croft-Cooke was a novelist.) This one is the complete opposite of the Deenes – it’s amusing and well paced. It spoofs the characters of Poirot, Wimsey and (brilliantly) Father Brown (who has an obsession about the evils of Protestantism), but also their approach to detection. The Sayers solution is a very tricky and complex method, like Busman’s Honeymoon; the Christie involves two lovers plotting a murder, and giving themselves a hidden alibi; and the Chesterton is psychologically cruel and horrible. Very perceptive.


1936 Geoffrey Bles

In the case of Mrs. Thurston, who was found murdered behind the locked door of her own bedroom, there were circumstances so bizarre as to attract from their respective habitats those supreme investigators of crime, the wealthy Lord Simon Plimsoll, the debonair Monsieur Amer Picon, and that eccentric prelate Monsignor Smith.

As was to be expected, each of these genial detectives propounded a different and characteristically brilliant solution of the crime; but that did not prevent the local police sergeant from arresting the real culprit…

1937 Frederick A. Stokes (US)

Here is probably the most unusual mystery story ever written. In the case of Mrs. Thurston, who was found murdered in her bedroom behind closely locked doors, there were circumstances so unusual, so mysterious, so completely bizarre as to attract wide attention and bring to the scene three supreme investigators of crime.

Each of these famous sleuths has brought to book the perpetrators of many a strange and hideous crime. Each now sets out to solve the case of Mrs. Thurston in his own particular style – with hawk-eyed observation, with psychological intuitiveness and with the analytico deductive method (three approaches familiar to all mystery fans). We see these three great minds at work. EACH arrives separately at a brilliant and open and shut solution, startling in its unexpectedness, ironclad in its logic. Here is a feast of thrills and surprises for the true mystery fan. But it is the Police Sergeant who brings the greatest surprise of all in an unforeseen but most satisfying solution.


Observer (Torquemada, 6th September 1936): Early this year a humorous weekly published a sketch in which Thorndyke, Wimsey, Poirot, and Father Brown solved the mystery of the death of a sword-swallower who had practised not wisely but too well on his umbrella in the train.  It was not very funny; but it confined itself to one page.  Mr. Leo Bruce manfully occupies 287 pages in telling of a murder which Lord Simon Plimsoll, M. Amer Picon and Monsignor Smith fail to solve, and which the bovine local Sergeant easily elucidates.  A defter and kinder parodist might have covered his victims with the garment of praise; Mr. Bruce only achieves the spirit of heaviness.  He is best at Poirot (to rag whom is on all fours with taking a dead fly from a blind spider), very occasionally brilliant with Father Brown, and quite at sea with Lord Peter.  The dialogue between Plimsoll and his man Butterfield on the subject of beer and darts shows how woefully the author has misread his Sayers.  I hope to meet Mr. Bruce in a straight detective story, since two of his three incorrect solutions are clever, and the real truth is a most ingenious embroidery on the theme—amende honorable?—of Chesterton’s “The Wrong Shape”.

New Statesman & Nation (Ralph Partridge, 12th September 1936): Mr. Leo Bruce has indulged in a skit on Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey and Father Brown in his Case for Three Detectives.  Under the thinnest disguises these three champions each solve the murder of Mrs. Thurston in an apparently locked room in her country house—with each time a different solution.  The case is, of course, a simple one as things turn out, and is solved finally and correctly by the local police sergeant by mere routine methods.  As the reader and the three amateurs are denied the benefit of these routine methods until the last chapter, the sergeant’s air of superior perspicacity is donned rather cheaply.  The caricatures are amusing up to a point; but since it is a foregone conclusion that the characteristic theory which each detective elaborates must be based on false premises, the joke is soon exhausted.

Times Literary Supplement (George Palmer, 3rd October 1936): After dinner one night piercing screams are heard from the first floor of a country house.  The week-end party crowds up the stairs behind their host, who batters down a bedroom door and discovers his wife lying murdered.  This may seem a prosaic beginning to a story, but it soon takes an original and amusing turn.  For “quite early the next morning those indefatigably brilliant investigators, who seem to be always handy when a murder has been committed, began to arrive”.  Lord Simon Plimsoll steps from a Rolls-Royce, Monsieur Amer Picon is discovered on all-fours beside a flower bed, and Monsignor Smith, “a small human pudding”, sheds numerous parcels and a green parasol on convenient chairs.  Each proceeds to tackle the problem, and in due course propounds his own ingenious solution.  The local policeman, who has let them have their say first out of courtesy, then arrests the real criminal.

The author has set himself a difficult task, for a parody of this nature might very easily degenerate into buffoonery.  But he has successfully eluded this pitfall.  And, although none of the three gentleman would have overlooked a small matter which Sergeant Beef did not overlook, no one who reads this entertaining story will quarrel with that.

Spectator (Nicholas Blake, 25th September 1936): Case for Three Detectives is a leg-pull; my main criticism of it is that Mr. Bruce forgets occasionally that he is meant to be pulling our legs, lets go, and in consequence we all fall down rather hard.  A lady is murdered—it is apparently one of those locked-room cases—and three amateur detectives appear on the scene, Lord Simon Plimsoll, M. Amer Picon and Monsignor Smith; these are unconcealed burlesques of Wimsey, Poirot and Father Brown.  Each constructs an elaborate and specious solution of the crime, only to be proved wrong by the local police-sergeant, who shows that the murder itself was, up to a point, a joke.

Milward Kennedy in the Sunday Times: A story out of the ordinary which I commend warmly to detective fans. They will enjoy it, and can exercise their wits on it.

A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): An attempt to combine a spoof on the personalities and methods of three famous fictional detectives with a story about the less spectacular methods of Sgt. Beef.  The intriguing (i.e., with servants) lady of a modest country house is found in a securely locked room with her throat slashed.  Lord Simon Plimsoll (Peter Wimsey), M. Amer Picon (Poirot), and Msgr. Smith (Father Brown) appear at once and investigate.  Each gives his solution of the mystery, not entirely different as to method, but accusing different persons.  Sgt. Beef shows them all to be wrong.  Not a bad job at all.