The Case Of The Flying Donkey

A review of The Case of the Flying Donkey by Christopher Bush

This is one of the rarest of Christopher Bush’s Ludovic Travers yarns, the twenty-first in the series and originally published in 1939 under its initial title of The Case of the Flying Ass. It has now been reissued by Dean Street Press. For those of us who are enjoying exploring the Golden Age of Detective fiction and discovering authors who are new to us, it is easy to underestimate the enormous amount of time, patience, energy and, yes, sleuthing that publishers like Dean Street Press and their team of helpers put in to plug those missing gaps. We should be eternally grateful.

Travers and his new wife, Bernice, are on a jaunt to Paris but for the amateur sleuth it soon becomes a busman’s holiday, the result of his meeting up with Inspector Gallois, whom we last met in The Case of the Three Strange Faces. It is another story of an Englishman abroad, seemingly unshakeable alibis, and a foray into the art world.

Travers had bought a rather expensive painting by an up-and-coming French artist, Henri Larne. It is banished to his private quarters, and he dare not tell Bernice how much he paid for it – the joys of married life are beginning to impinge upon him. At an exhibition featuring some works of Larne in London, Travers came across a Parisian art dealer, Braque, who seemed to be behaving oddly and examining the signature with extreme care.

On his arrival in Paris Travers is invited by Braque to view his private collection. Wary, Travers tells Gallois but decides to go. On his arrival, he finds Braque’s body still warm. He had only just been fatally stabbed. It seems that Travers’ invitation was designed to establish a time for the murder and, by implication, an alibi but whose and why was Braque murdered? Braque’s business partner reveals that he had spoken of two “gold mines”, one of which had failed but the second was proving profitable. What was he up to and how are Larne’s half-brother, Henri, and the artist’s model, Elise Deschamps, involved?

Gallois has a certain approach to investigating a case, regarding it as a piece of theatre and an opportunity to how patience and finesse. He takes delight in withholding information from Travers while his junior, Charles, plays the part of a go-between, a master of disguise. There are the inevitable red herrings, aided and abetted by Gallois’ Gallic aloofness, a clever plot device by Bush, but despite feeling out of the loop, it is Travers who spots the link that eventually unravels the case.

Henri Larne signs his pictures with a hieroglyph in the form of a flying donkey, in part a pun on his name, âne being donkey in French, but more intriguingly, the body and legs look like two capital Ms, one above the other. Armed with the knowledge of the importance of the signature, Travers and, to a lesser extent, Gallois unravel a plot to sell counterfeit paintings. The carefully constructed alibi unravels – it is not difficult to see how it was done – and the culprit is revealed, the identity of whom might seem a surprise to some, but the clues are there for all to see.

The book ends on a note of optimism, which sadly with the imminence of war proves unfounded, hindsight bringing a touch of pathos to a tale that was engrossing and enjoyable, although the plot was not as complex as some that Bush has hatched. I enjoyed the book and am grateful that it was rescued from an undeserved obscurity.

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