A review of The Case of the Running Mouse by Christopher Bush – 230514
I have been reading Christopher Bush’s Ludovic Travers in chronological order and the transformation in his amateur sleuth has been fascinating to observe. In this twenty-seventh outing, originally published in 1944 and reissued by Dean Street Press, Travers’ role and attitude have undergone another transformation. The story, though, is one of his less successful ones, running out of steam in the middle after a promising start and needing a bolt almost out of the blue to get it back on track. Nevertheless, Bush rarely fails to produce an intriguing plot and there are plenty of red herrings and misdirections to work before reaching the rather rushed and abrupt ending.
Travers, in the army and on 14-days leave, is at a loose end as his wife, Bernice, serving as a nurse cannot get leave. Nevertheless, it is through her that Travers is approached by Worrack who wants him to help track down a missing woman, Georgina Morbent. Hitherto, Travers had been brought in by Scotland Yard on a consultancy basis to help out with a tricky case but here, for the first time, he is assuming, albeit unintentionally, the role of an independent investigator working solo rather than in cahoots with the police.
This subtle change of role marks a change in his relationship with George Wharton with whom he had worked on many of his earlier cases. Previously they had worked well together, each playing to their strengths, sometimes being a little fractious with each other, often chiding each other for their foibles. In the Running Mouse, though, Travers is playing a more dangerous game, running alongside and sometimes counter to Wharton’s investigation, sometimes withholding vital evidence that might have made “The General’s” life easier. It also feels as if the scales have fallen from Travers’ eyes as he realises, rightly or wrongly, that Wharton is quick to assume the credit for the deeds of others and deflect criticism for mistakes. Their relationship has not soured but it has been set at a different level.
The story explores the darker, seamier of wartime London life. It centres around a discreet gambling den in the centre of the capital, run by Worrack and Morbent, where some of the more raffish of the city’s toffs and the odd officer on leave pass through, the rules designed to ensure no one quite loses their shirt, even though there are large IOUs in circulation. Travers makes little progress in discovering the whereabouts of Morbent, but the case and, frankly, comes to life when Morbent’s decapitated head is found and Worrack collapses dramatically in his club just as a mouse runs through the room and dies having ingested poison. It is at this point that Wharton enters the story.
As well as the obligatory blackmail the issue of abortion and its consequences feature strongly in the case. The loosening of sexual mores since the First World War and exacerbated by the strains and stresses of the Second had meant that the issue of backstreet abortionists was looming large, a subject Bush had treated more en passant in The Case of the Magic Mirror. Bush treats Morbent’s predicament with sympathy reserving, through Wharton, his ire for the abortionists who charge a fortune and place the woman’s life in peril. The book has a similar darker feel to it as The Magic Mirror.
The war only appears in the background. There is the blackout which makes getting around at night difficult, Travers has downsized to reduce expenses, characters have been injured in various theatres of conflict, but for those with money and influence it is still possible to avoid the grim fare of rationing and dine and drink reasonably well.
Wharton preens himself for wrapping the case up under his own steam, Travers only playing a bit part, but has he really?
Sadly, though, I was more interested in the changes in travers and his relationship with Wharton to care too much whodunit. With more than half the series of books to go, I am sure Travers’ development as a character will continue.