Thursday, September 21, 2017

Back in the Bushes: The Christopher Bush Detective Novels Reissued

"Chris" (Christopher Bush)
 in military dress 

Things continue to move in vintage mystery news as we head into the fall of 2017.

First up, we have developments with two of the most reliable and prolific British Golden Age detective novelists, both of them, like Margery Allingham, John Dickson Carr, Nicholas BlakeGladys MitchellAnthony Gilbert and the recently revived E. R. Punshon, Thirties inductees in the Detection Club (indeed, they were among the last inductees before the Second World War): Edith Caroline Rivett (1894-1958), who published 71 detective novels as ECR Lorac and Carol Carnac, and Charlie Christmas Bush (1885-1973), who is better known to classic mystery fans as Christopher Bush, author of 63 detective novels.  (Besides detective fiction, Charlie Bush also wrote regional mainstream novels and war thrillers under the name Michael Home.)

Two of Carol Rivett's ECR Lorac three score and eleven detective novels are being reprinted by the British Library in the spring, I hear, and the first ten Christopher Bush detective novels are being reissued in just under two weeks by Dean Street Press, who is going reissue the whole series.

For this Bush series I have written a sizable general introduction, as well as shorter introductions for individual titles. Years ago I had named Cut-Throat as one of my favorite Golden Age detective novels, but I have concluded over the years that Bush contributed additional classics to the genre, as did Carol Rivett, a longtime favorite of mine. (I'll have more to say about her soon.)

The first ten titles Christopher Bush titles are as follows (scroll down for further discussion):


Through the generosity of a private collector, the incredibly rare The Plumley Inheritance is now back in print, for the first time in 91 years.  It's the novel in which debuts Christopher Bush's series sleuth, the lanky and bespectacled Ludovic "Ludo" Travers, who appears in all 63 of Bush's detective novels.  Travers and his entourage likely will remind readers heretofore unfamiliar with the series of what they find in the detective fiction of Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham, creators of, respectively, Lord Peter Wimsey and Albert Campion. 

Travers is another member in the swank ranks of well-born and independently-wealthy gentleman detectives, though he is also a successful author of simultaneously learned and popular treatises on economics.  He is single (in the first ten books), but happily has a most devoted "man," the raven-like Palmer, to take care of him.  Over the first ten books Travers slowly moves to dominate the series, elbowing out (politely of course) two other characters: Geoffrey Wrentham, an old school friend of Travers, and private detective John Franklin, Travers' colleague in the great advisory firm of Durangos, Ltd.  Remaining with Travers in the series for many years, however, is Scotland Yard's Superintendent George "The General" Wharton, who in my view is one of the more significant and credibly conceived policemen in British Golden Age detective fiction. 

Christopher Bush was a stalwart of the Golden Age of detective fiction, popular with critics and the public alike.  Charles Williams, with JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis one of Oxford's distinguished "Inklings," once approvingly commented that "Mr. Bush writes of as thoroughly enjoyable murders as any I know."  Additionally, modern authority Barry Pike has aptly summarized the appeal of the detective fiction of Bush, whom he calls "one of the most reliable and resourceful of true detective writers," as "Golden Age baroque, rendered remarkable by some extraordinary flights of fancy."  More recently blogger Nick Fuller has noted the frequent ingenuity of Bush, comparing him as an adept of the alibi problem to the great lord of the locked room, John Dickson Carr. 

The Plumley Inheritance is a lighter treasure hunt mystery (though murder makes it way into the picture as well), but three years later Bush scored a great hit with The Perfect Murder Case, which has some resemblance to a serial murder novel (though it really isn't one, in my view).  The device of the letter taunting the police that a perfect murder is going to be committed seems to have been inspired by the notorious Jack the Ripper killings, which took place when Bush was living in London as a very young boy.

Dead Man Twice, which in my opinion should be considered the third, not the fourth, novel in the Travers series (there's a disagreement about this), concerns the mystery of the double deaths of a gentleman boxer and his butler, while Murder at Fenwold (in the US The Death of Cosmo Revere) is a full-fledged country house and village mystery, with all the trappings.

A classic Christmas season crime, Dancing Death, followed.  It takes place mostly during a snowbound country house party, a classic situation that never fails to appeal to fans of vintage mystery.

Next there was Dead Man's Music, which takes advantage of Bush interest in classical music, a love that was shared by his son, the late composer Geoffrey Bush (1920-1998).  And then the excellent, seemingly time-altering, Cut-Throat, influenced by contemporary British politics.

Finally there are the first three of Bush's "The Case of" mysteries (this was the title format for the rest of the series): The Unfortunate Village, The April Fools and The Three Strange Faces.  As the title indicates, Village is another one of Bush's takes on the rural mystery, in a story bearing certain resemblance, in my view, to Miles Burton's The Secret of High Eldersham, recently reprinted by the British Library, Gladys Mitchell's The Saltmarsh Murders and Agatha Christie's Murder Is Easy.

April Fools is another country house murder story, a highly ingenious one making use of the conventions of April Fools' Day, while The Three Strange Faces is partially a train mystery, set in France--the first, though not the last, of the Bush detective novels with this setting.

I'm very excited about this new vintage mystery reissue series, as it concerns one of the most important Golden Age British mystery writers who had remained out of print.  Making all these books accessible again to fans of British mystery is another significant step in the ongoing recovery of Golden Age detective fiction in all its splendor, something that was almost unimaginable, at least in this scope, only five years ago.

17 comments:

  1. Happy to see these titles, and I've already ordered them all through my usual source. I've had a copy of Perfect Murder sitting around for ages but haven't gotten to it yet. Now that these are available, it's time to dig it out.

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    1. I'm very happy to see all these coming back, so that they are accessible to all.

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  2. Great news! Had you told me ten years ago that Christopher Bush would be back in print in the next decade, I'd probably have thought you were pulling my leg. The Golden Age is back guys, hopefully for good.
    Only six Travers books made their way to French bookshelves: "The Perfect Murder Case", "The Case of the Chinese Gong", "The Case of the Rambling Rat", "The Case of the Missing Men" and the Gardner-reminding "The Case of the Prodigal Girl". I own the first, third, fourth and fifth - are they good ones?

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    1. The Progidal Girl was his last one, late 60s, its Bush's Third Girl. Love the title The Rambling Rat, it's The Climbing Rat in English. Rambling is better! As I recollect that's set in France and brings back his French inspector friend Gallois, from The Case of the Three Strange Faces. The Perfect Murder Case is kind of Bush's Cask, Martin talks about it in his new book.

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    2. Perfect Murder Case: Good, quite Croftsian. Anticipates Christie. My review on GAD Wiki probably gives too much away.

      Chinese Gong: Bush's attempt at a Carrian impossible crime. Well constructed, but lacks JDC's panache.

      Climbing Rat: This was one I read on inter-library loan; the university wouldn't let me take it out, so I had to read it in the building, a couple of chapters at a time. Not the best way of reading GA Baroque! From memory, it involved a Bluebeard (like Landru), an acrobat, following suspects around in cars, and a complicated revenge plot. I'm looking forward to reading this one again.

      Missing Men: Haven't read.

      Prodigal Daughter: This one was OK; certainly not actively bad. Bush (like Christie) keenly observed how British society changed. Not much ingenuity, but well constructed.

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  3. The only person I know who's read THE PUMLEY INHERITANCE wrote about her adventure in acquiring the very rare copy and then reading the book. She said it was a huge disappointment after spending 15 years of searching (an awful lot of money) for the book. I commiserate. I can tell similar stories about searching for rare books for years, paying an exhorbitant amount to get a copy, and then discovering I should've saved my money. It's the only Bush rarity I won't be reading in this new set of long overdue reissues. Anyone interested in reading about Diane's acquisition and review of THE PLUMLEY INHERITANCE can find it here.

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    1. Well, the good news is now you have only to risk 2.99 for an eBook copy! The person who made Plumley available is a Japanese collector, but I'm familiar with Diane's quest for the book that shares her surname. I felt rather the same way about Christie's Why Didn't They Ask Evans? But fortunately that was always available in paperback! Disappontingly, though, Evans is such a vastly more common name than Plumley.

      Since you raised the issue I may talk about Plumley Inheritance in the future. Like I said, it's a lighter, treasure hunt mystery, but I enjoyed it. Of course part of what I liked was getting more back story on Travers. It's actually set not long after the Great War, and we learn why Travers wears those hornrimmed glasses!

      I might compare Plumley, in terms of its mystery, to Christies The Secret of Chimneys or Allinghams The Crime at Black Dudley or Conningtons The Dangerfield Talisman. Not bad company, but if you want a reallly thorny murder problem, there are stronger ones in this group.


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    2. Diane just buried her mother today, by the way, so please send your prayers and thoughts to Diane if you know her on Facebook or other social media.

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    3. J.F. - I'm a third through The Plumley Inheritance, and thoroughly enjoying it. Leisurely, perhaps, but full of charm. It's a love letter to England; it's set in 1919, Major Wrentham, the protagonist, has just returned from the War, and there are lyrical descriptions of country life (village cricket, vicars, and herbaceous borders). Plenty of adventure - midnight expeditions and motorcycles. And Bush can write, too.

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  4. Truly these are great days for GAD fans and I for one am thrilled to know that the Bush series will soon be available again.I purchased THE PLUMLEY INHERITANCE immediately from this first group of reprints and do not expect to be disappointed. Of course the fact that I did not maintain a long search nor pay an exhorbitant price and am already a Bush fan may have something to do with my confidence.

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    1. I think it's nice to have all the books available, so that readers can decide on their own favorites. My own favorites from the first ten, however, probably are The Perfect Murder Case, Dancing Death, which I already reviewed here, Cut-Throat, The Case of the April Fools and The Case of the Three Strange Faces.

      Yes, it's amazing to compare the difference between now and five yeas ago. That Christopher Bush and ER Punshon and JJ Connington all are already or going to be entirely back in print is amazing, not to mention that John Bude and Jefferson Farjeon are new fan favorites. And I hope to play a role in this ongoing revival into 2018.

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    2. I think it's nice to have all the books available

      They're actually going to reprint the whole lot? All 63? Now that's ambitious. But he was a fine writer so I'm not complaining.

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    3. Yup, all 63! Dean Street Press don't do things by 'arf, guv'nor.

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  5. A good Bush may need no wine, but this is cause for celebration! Looking forward to reading (and rereading) Travers.

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    1. I remember when I sent you those Bush books years ago, never would have imagined they would all be back in print a decade later.

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  6. Sorry for the late response, but yes, this is great news and have already read two of these reprints, The Perfect Murder Case and Cut Throat, which were excellent and the latter has an inspired alibi-trick that manipulated the flow of time itself.

    It gave a whole new dimension to the rearrangement in time-and space technique writers like Carr were so fond of when plotting their impossible crime stories. Bush is shaping up to be my next Punshon and looking forward to explore this series further!

    Xavier said: "The Golden Age is back guys, hopefully for good."

    This is the genre's Renaissance Era! I see no reason why this would stop anytime soon, because there's an audience that both bigger and smaller publishers can sell to. And this may very well be one of the last opportunities they have to make a buck off these books. Golden Age began almost a 100 years ago (1920) and copyrights will begin to expire over the next decade or two, which will lead to a second Renaissance Era for public domain websites (Gutenberg) and print-on-demand publishers.

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    1. Yes, it's nearly a century since the dawning of the Golden age, but the books are back, delayed somewhat by the vagaries of copyright law.

      I'm excited about the DSP reissues in particular, because they are doing all the books even of prolific authors, like Punshon and Bush. It's the best way to give readers a true assessment of their work. Just bringing back a few of the titles in boutique editions threatens to be a more ephemeral affair. (It certainly was in the past.)

      Bush's Golden Age books I have come to like quite a lot. I used to be more of a Barzunian purist (Barzun did not much like Bush), but I have come to quite like those baroque tocuches. Golden Age baroque, as Barry Pike called it. The later ones are drier affairs, but still pleasing to fans of actual plot.

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