A review of The Case of the Monday Murders by Christopher Bush
Christopher Bush is one of those murder mystery writers from the so-called Golden Age who had slipped into obscurity but is undergoing a bit of a renaissance thanks to the sterling efforts of those behind Dean Street Press who have reissued the series for a modern readership to discover. The Case of the Monday Murders is the fourteenth novel in Bush’s Ludovic Travers series and was originally published in 1936.
The Detection Club was formed by the leading lights of British crime fiction in 1930. Membership was by invitation and Bush did not join until 1937, Curtis Evans’ excellent introduction informs us. Forearmed with this information it is not hard to see that Ferdinand Pole’s Murder League, a publicity seeking circle of crime writers, is a take-off of the Club and that Travers’ disdain for the League – he is now a crime writer having just published Kensington Gore – may mirror Bush’s feelings. If so, why did he change his mind? Was the novel some kind of cathartic exercise which, once out of the way, convinced him that it might not be as bad as he feared?
Bush also has the newspaper industry in his sights. The journalists at the Evening Blazon are looking for scoops and sensationalism and willing to give Pole the oxygen of publicity by printing his letter in which he claimed that thirteen unsolved murders since 1918 had been committed on a Monday. Was it the work of the same person and would there be more Monday murders? Was there something in it or was it just Pole seeking publicity for himself and his League? The journalists did not care as it made good copy and sold papers.
Pole is an interesting character and floats the idea, later pondered by Richard Hull in Excellent Intentions, of whether it was ever justifiable to kill someone whose removal would benefit society, a thought that horrify us now but one that tapped into the zeitgeist. Inevitably, an economist who had become a recluse after allegations of paedophilia surfaced, T P Luffham, is found dead in his flat, murdered, on a Monday of course. Then on the following Monday, an actress who seems to have successfully covered up her past is murdered. The finger of suspicion seems to be firmly pointed in one direction until they too are murdered, although not on a Monday.
The investigations are led by Wharton of the Yard aka The General and Travers. Their initial scepticism as to whether there is anything in the Monday murder theory gives way to absolute conviction as to the identity of the culprit. What gets them on to the right track in this tale of retribution and murky pasts is a mixture of tidbits picked up in conversations, the phenomenal and uncanny gift of recollection on the part of Palmer, Travers’ man, and the mystery of the disappearing parrot, Charlie.
More could have been made of Charlie, there are too few suspects to make it a challenging mystery and the clues to motivation are more in Travers’ head than on the page. A slip of the tongue by the culprit gives the game away and leads to a thrilling, if somewhat underpowered, denouement, provoked by Travers’ penchant for taking risks and putting himself in harm’s way, a characteristic that leads to a severing of bonhomie, soon patched up, between the stolid Wharton and the more mercurial amateur sleuth.
It is a good read, entertaining enough, with some well-drawn characters, but not one of the best of the series.