The Case Of The 100% Alibis

A review of The Case of the 100% Alibis by Christopher Bush

A feature of Bush’s books, at least the ones that I have read so far, is that he includes a prologue which includes a few clues which, at first blush, seem to have nothing to do with the story that you proceed to read, but their relevance and importance becomes clear in this 1934 novel, the eleventh in his Ludovic Travers series and reissued by Dean Street Press. What relevance do Mrs Hubbard’s prize-winning recipe and news of Captain Moile’s first attempt at a solo flight across the Atlantic have to a case of water-tight alibis? The title of the book may be clunky, but it describes what lies within the covers.  

Three telephone calls frame the mystery, made just before or immediately after the murder of Frederick Lewton. The first two are made by Lewton, the first to a friend, Beece, in what is described as a normal voice, the second five minutes later to his doctor, Rule, in which the victim is described as being scared stiff, and the third, three minutes later, by his servant, Robert Trench, informing the police that when he had returned to the house, he had discovered that his employer had been stabbed to death.

Matters are further complicated by the fact that all the credible suspects have solid alibis, having been seen in public away from the scene of the crime at the time of the murder. Superintendent George Wharton, who happens to be in Seaborough with his wife Jane, a sounding board and purveyor of wisdom and insight a la Bobby Owen’s Olive, takes the lead in attempting to solve the mystery. Despite the endeavours of “The General”, one of the Yard’s big five, his sleuthing merely serves to enforce the strength of the suspects’’ alibis.

Ludovic Travers arrives midway through the book, again he just happens to be in the area, and offers to lend a hand. Even he seems to get nowhere and the murder of a man who seems not to have been liked seems destined to be one of those unsolved mysteries. However, Travers has a plan that will unravel some of the alibis, on the pretence of wanting to write a detective novel about a perfect murder along the lines of the Lewton case. Surprisingly, this rather obvious and underhand tactic bears fruit.

I have read enough books involving alibis which are highly dependent upon the time to know the reliability and accuracy of timepieces is crucial. However, Bush has constructed an extremely clever and watertight plot that all the relevant clocks were telling the same time at the crucial period. It is only the planning of the novel that gives Travers a scintilla of a clue as to how it was pulled off.

As the investigations proceed, we learn that Lewton is involved in a blackmail plot, allowing the reader to understand the motivation behind doing away with a character other than simply because of his unpleasantness. The identity of the culprit at the end is a tad surprising, but Bush cleverly allows a bit of uncertainty to remain, the reader suspecting that the named murderer may have taken one for the team.

It is a convoluted story, thoroughly enjoyable, and one about which is difficult to go into too much detail without giving the game away. However, the clues mentioned in the prologue make sense in the end and help to unravel a first-class and entertaining alibi mystery, the sub-genre at which Bush excels.

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