Christopher Bush was an English writer of detective stories. I’ve seen at least three different birth dates given for him, ranging from 1881 to 1888. He died in 1973. He was successful enough in his day to earn his living as a full-time writer and to produce 63 mystery novels as well as a dozen thrillers. His work is long out of print and he has subsided into almost complete obscurity.
If Julian Symons had included Bush in his celebrated survey of the genre, Bloody Murder, it seems likely he would have consigned him to the Humdrum School.
The Case of the Tudor Queen appeared in 1938 and was the eighteenth of his mysteries featuring the team of Detective-Superintendent Wharton and private detective Ludovic Travers. Wharton is an old school copper and is perhaps just a little in the Colonel Blimp mode although he’s certainly no fool. Travers is a communist, and being a communist he is of course upper-class. His solidarity with the working classes does not extend to working for a living himself, or to dispensing with his faithful servant Palmer. Travers is clearly wealthy and really seems more like an amateur detective than a working private detective. Wharton by contrast does not have a privileged background and had to work his way up through the ranks, which is why he does not share Travers’ political views. Thankfully these political views do not intrude on the story in any way.
Wharton and Travers stumble upon a couple of corpses. It seems to be a slightly bizarre double suicide but there are a few things that don’t quite add up.
One of the victims is Mary Legreye, a fairly well-known actress. She is around 35 years of age and has just had her first really significant success, starring as Mary Tudor in a hit play called Stoney Heart.
While there does seem to be a possible motive for suicide neither Wharton nor Travers is quite convinced. If it’s murder then there are a number of possible suspects. The problem is that while the two detectives are unhappy with the suicide theory they can’t come up with a murder theory that works satisfactorily either.
Bush would appear to be something of a follower of Freeman Wills Crofts with alibis being the central focus of the (rather ingenious) plot. Everyone seems to have an alibi and the alibis seem to be unbreakable. This plot angle is handled in the kind of painstaking manner that characterises the work of Crofts, and it has to be said that it’s handled quite adroitly. Bush is more interested in how the crime might have been committed than in the issue of who actually committed it, and while it might not be overly difficult to identity the probably criminal the means by which murder was done provides a satisfying and difficult puzzle.
This book’s other great strength is the way the theatrical background is very cleverly and very intricately woven into the plot. Both Wharton and Travers suspect that the play itself contains the vital clue. They’re correct, but untangling the actual connection proves to be a formidable challenge.
Crofts fans are likely to enjoy this fairly short novel quite a bit. Golden age detective fans in general will find it worth checking out. Bush’s prose isn’t exactly dazzling but his two-detective team of crime-solvers works quite effectively and Bush offers the reader a crime with some bizarre touches and a suitably complex and well thought out solution. It’s not quite in the Crofts league but it’s a solid mystery. Recommended.