A review of The Case of the April Fools by Christopher Bush
Originally published in 1933 and now reissued by Dean Street Press, this is the ninth in Bush’s Ludovic Travers series. While Travers, Bush’s amateur detective, takes a leading part in the drama, there have been some changes to the supporting cast, Wharton has been replaced by Inspector Norris and John Franklin, the head of Private Investigations at Durangos is nowhere to be seen. It is always welcome to see an author freshen up their cast list as it allows for new perspectives, skills, and dynamics to be explored. Travers and Norris work well together in solving what is an unduly complicated case, sprinkled with more clues than you could shake a stick at.
As is often the case with the Bush novels I have read to date, seemingly odd and unconnected events described in the first chapter tend to have a growing importance as the tale unfolds. Travers is intrigued by an extensive advertising campaign featuring a character called Wen Ti and then overhears a conversation in which two of his clients, Courtney Adlard and Charles Crewe, in which he is described as a bit of a fool, but worth involving as a jury would believe his testimony.
Travers, who is negotiating a lease on a theatre for Adlard and Crewe, is duly invited to Adlard’s country house. Crewe has been receiving death threats, but the duo do not seem to be taking them seriously. The following day Crewe’s body is found in his room by Adlard and travers. By the time Travers has summoned assistance, Adlard too is murdered. In a not quite a locked room murder, it is difficult to see how the double murders could have been committed and the murderer have had the time to enter and, more importantly, leave the room undetected.
There are clues galore – a Dutch hoe, a broken vine, a key, a letter, Adlard’s sister rifling through her brother’s desk in a frantic search, an American who went for a walk at the time of the crimes. Four of the guests at the house are thespians, always a source of suspicion, and two of them have skills in lassoing and knife throwing which could have been useful in planning the escape. Although these aspects are given a thorough investigation, the reader soon realizes that the case is much simpler than it seems at first blush and that some of the usual motivations, blackmail and dodgy ancestors, provide the motivations for murder. Bush, though, hardly plays fair by the reader by leaving a lot of the principal information needed until the last minute. Also, having made a big thing of Wen Ti at the outset, that theme quickly becomes a damp squib.
There are a couple of intriguing aspects to the storyline. It may well be the first murder mystery in novel form to use April Fool’s Day as its hook. It is not an obvious date around which to weave a plot, but it serves Bush’s purpose to take his amateur sleuth a peg or two. Having been characterized as a bit of a fool at the outset, Travers lives up to his billing by missing the trick which showed how the murder was done.
It was left to Inspector Norris to solve the crime, thanks to some advice from a builder and a practical joke played on him at home by his children. It is an unusual, but welcome, twist for an author like Bush to turn the tables on his principal character in this way.
The best line in the book also puts his hero down and maintains that intrigue about his sexuality; “he knew as little about women as ducks do about dumplings”. They do not write lines like that anymore.
While eminently readable and enjoyable and the plotting clever, it seemed a little over contrived for me. Removing some of the padding to leave a sharper, more focused novel would have improved it immeasurably.