Ten Trails To Tyburn

A review of Ten Trails to Tyburn by Bruce Graeme – 230221

Ten Trails to Tyburn is the fifth in Bruce Graeme’s series featuring bookseller and library owner, Theodore Terhune, originally published in 1944 and reissued by Moonstone Press. A bibliomystery, Graeme once more experiments with the format of the crime fiction genre, producing an entertaining and engaging if somewhat overlong story.

A tramp known locally as Peter the Hermit is found dead in a shelter deep in the woods where he has scraped an existence for around ten years. The post mortem suggests that the years of poor diet led to a fatal weakening of his heart. No one can give him a positive identification. It seems as though the tramp’s death will remain in the police files as an unfortunate incident which requires no further investigation. Visiting the shelter Sergeant Murphy and Terhune find a Bulgarian newspaper from 1923 and an elaborately bejewelled comb hidden there, unusual keepsakes for a destitute tramp to keep, especially as the comb could have raised some much-needed cash.   

Terhune’s investigative juices are set flowing as he and Murphy receive anonymous missives containing a series of short stories under the omnibus title of Ten Trails to Tyburn. They quickly deduce that the stories contain clues to the identity of Peter the Hermit, his backstory and, possibly, the reason why he dies. However, their task is made difficult because the stories are more cryptic than evidential, owing much to the style and humour of Guy de Maupassant. The fifth story they receive shows a marked change of style and suggests that they are barking up the wrong tree.    

Terhune stops at nothing to unlock the mystery, developing elaborate theories from the hints dropped in the story and even travelling to France to establish the significance of the cutting from the Bulgarian newspaper. They discover a story of fraternal enmity, greed, and revenge. While the tramp had died a natural death the culprit had so arranged affairs that given his poor health and weak heart an unexpected surprise was likely to provoke a fatal cardiac arrest. It also becomes apparent that there are two authors of the stories, the first seeking to bring the person who contrived the tramp’s death to justice and the second to stymie the investigations.

Through a process of elimination Terhune has produced a character profile of the two writers and given the characters that we meet as the book progresses, it is surprising that he does not make the final leap. There is only one couple that fill the bill. When charges of murder cannot be laid, the aggrieved party takes matters into their own hands and obtain the satisfaction of settling an old score before fleeing. Terhune receives what is the tenth short story (six to nine are not included in the narrative) which reveals that his reconstruction of the reason for the writer to seek justice was wrong and that marital infidelity was at the heart of the matter.

This is another Graeme book which, while published during the Second World War, anticipates life after the war has ended. In one fascinating passage Terhune (Graeme) speculates about the attitude of the French to English tourists; will they regard them as heroes, representatives of a conquering nation, or will they be resentful that their country bore the brunt of the ravages of war? Another oddity is that Murphy seems to have become more idiomatically Irish in his speech. The Julia, Helena, Terhune love triangle rumbles on, although it seems nearer to resolution as Helena’s amatory attentions seem to be moving elsewhere.

The plot is not as complex as some, as though Graeme’s inventive energy has been spent in creating the literary pastiches rather than on the complexity of the story line. There are some interesting characters and not a little humour, parts of the book read like a love poem to the pastoral splendours of Britain and a stylistic oddity is Graeme’s penchant for listing items. As a mystery, though, it is disappointing as the culprit is too obvious. If you read the book, read the Introduction afterwards as, unfortunately, it gives the game away.

Graeme is always challenging the conventions of the genre, and on the whole this is one of his better efforts.

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