Dead Man’s Music

A review of Dead Man’s Music by Christopher Bush

This, the sixth outing of Christopher Bush’s amateur sleuth, Ludovic Travers, was originally published in 1931 and has been reissued for a modern readership to discover by Dean Street Press. The book starts off with a set of coincidences that stretch credulity. Travers almost has a road accident with a vehicle in which his old police chum, Inspector Wharton, is travelling. Wharton is in Sussex investigating a possible suicide. Travers tags along and not only does he know the cottage where the corpse is found but can also positively identify the victim, one Claude Rowe. I often find that with the set up of novels of this genre, it is best to suspend disbelief and take liberal pinches of salt.

Nevertheless, Travers’ arrival at the scene is his cue to give an account of his unusual encounter with Rowe, who had asked Durangos, for whom Travers works, to send someone to see him. During the course of a somewhat bewildering evening, Travers is asked to look at a collection of worthless pottery and to take particular notice of one piece, to talk about an old stock market fraud and to hear a tone poem written by Rowe, the manuscript of which Travers is told to hold in trust until the person to whom it should be given makes themselves known.    

Aficionados of early Bush – I am reading his books in order and so cannot comment on whether this trait continues in his later career – will realise that early on in the narrative there are a set of seemingly random and inexplicable events which, as the story progresses, gradually begin to make sense and hold vital clues to the mystery. Such is the case with Claude Rowe’s strange behaviour and random topics of conversation in his first meeting with Travers.

Inevitably, not everything is as it seems. Rowe did not commit suicide but was murdered. The musical score of the tone poem that so enraptured Travers when he heard it played, turns out to be gibberish, save for the first page. Bush, whose son became a composer, went to the trouble of reproducing the first page in the book. For those who can read music, I can’t, and are good at cracking codes may find that the score contains clues vital for solving the mystery. What ensues is a fast-paced, first class, clever and complicated story involving enigmatic music, disguise and recognition, a silent housekeeper, international gangs, and fraud with the odd bit of revenge and blackmail thrown in.

Wharton, Travers and John Franklin, the head of Private Investigations at Durangos, each in their own way contribute to the unravelling of the mystery. Franklin is a late arrival to the story and as seems to the norm tackles the more dangerous and international aspects of the case. Travers provides the flashes of inspiration necessary to move the case along and to sort through the shoal of red herrings that Bush has put in their way while Wharton’s major contribution comes from his phenomenal powers of recollection of previous cases and scandals. Between them they make for a formidable team and even the most sophisticated of criminals cannot elude them for long.

Readers look to Bush for a well plotted, fast moving story and he does not disappoint.      

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