Monday, March 16, 2020

Murder as a Fine Art: Travers, P. I. --Christopher Bush's Ludovic Travers on Fifties dust jackets

the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius)
--the raptor to which detective
Ludo Travers frequently likened himself in the
Christopher Bush mysteries

Dean Street Press has a new tranche of Bushes--Christopher Bushes--out now, just in time for all those dreary (though necessary) quarantines and lock downs and what not.  These ten titles, beginning in 1952 and ending in 1957, are the cases of the Counterfeit Colonel, Burnt Bohemian, Silken Petticoat, Red Brunette, Three Lost Letters, Benevolent Bookie, Amateur Actor, Extra Man, Flowery Corpse and Russian Cross--the last of these, incidentally, being Bush's fiftieth, "Golden Jubilee" Ludovic Travers detective novel.

I shall be reviewing a few of these here soon, but in the meantime I wanted to pay tribute to the British Bush dust jackets of these years, when Ludo Travers became one of the best visualized of vintage crime fiction detectives.  Alan Hunter, author of the George Gently mysteries, at this time dubbed Ludo the "English Marlowe" (referencing Raymond Chandler's famed sleuth). 

If Bush's novels are ever adapted as films, the filmmakers certainly will have a ready model for casting the lead, courtesy of these splendid Macdonald jackets from the Fifties.  What actor looks like Ludo to you?

No social distancing going on here!
The Case of the Silken Petticoat (1953)
Here Ludo is consigned to the role of an onlooker on the jacket spine as a mysterious brassy blonde confronts arrogant critic Clement Foorde at the Cafe Rond.  This is a truly superlative jacket which really captures the scene from the book:

It was almost half-past six and the bar was pretty full. There was plenty of chatter and so much of a smoke haze that I had to give my hornrims a polish before I could see clearly to the far end. Behind the bar, and against a long background of multi-coloured bottles, a cocktail-wallah and a couple of barmen were busy as beavers.

A fat man had slid off a stool and put on his hat, and I was on that one vacant bar stool before its temperature had sunk by half a degree and ordering a treble whiskey and soda.  Then I had  a good look to my right, and there was Clement Foorde.

....Had I leaned forward I could have stroked the voluminous cape or the silky head of swept-back white hair.  I could almost have counted each hair in the mustache and the little imperial that barely reached the bottom of his chin, and I could see every detail of the setting of the handsome antique ring that flashed as he gently waved a white, gesticulating hand. 

He was in one of the deep leather chairs with a low table between him and his listener, a donnish-looking man whom I did not know....

...the girl--or should I say woman?--...came past us....she was what is known as an uncommonly good-looker...a blonde...the fur cape she wore was probably nutria.

The Case of the Benevolent Bookie (1955)
In past cases lanky and bespectacled Ludo, who narrates his cases, often self-deprecatingly compared himself physically to a secretary bird.  This cover, depicting Ludo and a plainclothes policeman investigating a dead body found in a burned hayrick, brought the image of a secretary bird to  my mind.

The Case of the Extra Man (1956)
Here Ludo really looks like a PI spying on a couple--including another blonde--from an alley.

The Case of the Russian Cross (1957)
Ludo trails a suave suspect who has just left his photography studio, with its exterior woodwork painted in turquoise blue and cream: "I saw the beautifully trimmed dark beard as he turned, and the smartly cut black overcoat and the dark Homburg hat."

The Case of the Running Man (1958)The titular running man appears on the cover, fleeing Ludo's presence in a high-end antique shop. 

This novel will appear be reissued next year, with the dozen other remaining Bush Ludovic Travers titles.


  1. What actor looks like Ludo to you?

    Colin Gordon. Snag with casting him in a TV series: he died in 1972.

    1. I had to look him up and did not recall his face, but I think you're on to something!

  2. Silken Petticoat - that's a beautiful painting! With some modernist flourishes, even.

    1. Yes, it reminds me of Fifties painting, very cool. I don't know the artist, sadly!

  3. I'm sure you've discussed this somewhere but can I ask: Where would you suggest I begin? Do you have few favorites? thank you.

    1. My Favorite Bushes so far (leaving some spaces open for later ones):

      1930s 7
      Dancing Death 1931
      Cut Throat 1932
      The Case of the April Fools 1933
      The Case of the Dead Shepherd 1934
      The Case of the Missing Minutes 1937
      The Case of the Tudor Queen 1938
      The Case of the Green Felt Hat 1939

      1940s 6
      The Case of the Murdered Major 1941
      The Case of the Kidnapped Colonel 1942
      The Case of the Running Mouse 1944
      The Case of the Platinum Blonde 1944
      The Case of the Haven Hotel 1948
      The Case of the Housekeeper's Hair 1948

      1950s 5
      The Case of the Corner Cottage 1951
      The Case of the Red Brunette 1954
      The Case of the Benevolent Bookie 1955
      The Case of the Flowery Corpse 1956
      The Case of the Russian Cross 1957

  4. I agree - great covers! but as representing Clothes in Books, I have to say - why not a picture of a silken petticoat ;)

    1. The Silken Petticoat is the tile of a novel! Read it and see for yourself. ;) Bush is really interested in this decade in women dying their hair though, like in this one and The Red Brunette.