Dead Man Twice – Christopher Bush
This is the third in Christopher Bush’s Ludovic Travers series, originally published in 1930 and now reissued for a modern audience by Dean Street Press. It introduces us to the world of the gentleman boxer in the form of playboy pugilist, Michael France, who is about to have a crack at the World Heavyweight Championship and is the talk of the town.
John Franklin, the ex-Scotland Yarder who heads up the private Investigation unit at Durangos Ltd, has been introduced to France’s charmed circle and is entranced. However, he is somewhat dismayed when the boxer contacts him to seek his advice about some threatening letters. When he gets to the house at the appointed time, he and the shifty valet find the body of the butler, Somers, on the floor, presumably poisoned after drinking some whisky laced with cyanide. Beneath his body is a suicide note penned by France. France’s body is found in another room with a gunshot neatly through the centre of his forehead and a small, almost toy-like, gun by his side. Is this a double suicide, a suicide and a murder or a double murder?
Once again, this is a cleverly and intricately plotted mystery with France’s life and relationships with those in his close circle not all that meets the eye, providing several suspects with the motivation to do the boxer in. However, all have seemingly cast-iron alibis and much of the investigation is concerned with testing and breaking the alibis to unmask the culprit.
Leading the investigation for the police is Inspector Wharton who does much of the legwork in this case. Franklin’s knowledge of the suspects, although frankly sketchy as he had only recently made their acquaintance and his almost schoolboyish admiration for them all is a tad annoying, allows him to tag along and involve his friend, the amateur sleuth, Ludovic Travers.
As in the earlier two books Travers plays a low-key part and Wharton is, rightly, wary of allowing an oddball amateur to muddy the waters. Indeed, it is astonishing that any professional investigator would take kindly to the dabbling of an amateur. Unusually for a policeman in this type of fiction, Wharton excels in the investigation, proving himself to be determined, thorough and adaptable, able to adjust and set the right tone to suit the persona of the individual he is dealing with.
However, as the investigation proceeds Wharton warms to Travers and recognises that his more intuitive approach and a readiness to think outside of the box can be immensely helpful. Indeed, it is a combination of Wharton’s hard graft and Travers’ intuition that finally cracks the case with Franklin somewhat surplus to requirements. It is not hard to see that as the series continues the Wharton-Travers combo will come into the ascendancy and the rather annoying Franklin will sail into the sunset.
This was a well-considered, well-written novel that held the reader’s attention and although the list of suspects was rather small, Bush kept the solution to his ingeniously wrought mystery under wraps until the end. I found it a very clever and enjoyable book and cannot wait to read more of his works. Highly recommended.
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