Friday, 20 April 2012

Forgotten Book - The Case of the Chinese Gong

My choice for today’s Forgotten Book is Christopher Bush’s 1935 novel, The Case of the Chinese Gong. This is one of a long series of books featuring Bush’s amateur sleuth Ludovic Travers ( I believe he later became a private detective), who here aids and abets the Chief Constable in solving a domestic mystery.

This is one of those books in which the victim is an elderly and wealthy old chap with remarkably few redeeming features. Hubert Greeve is as mean and unpleasant as his name suggests, and there is no shortage of suspects when he is shot to death in his own home.

The suspects include four cousins who have fallen on hard times, as well as the family solicitor. Another question for Travers is whether the butler did it – this character certainly seems to be hiding a few secrets. The plot is quite elaborate, and a rough plan of the crime scene is provided. The real question is "howdunit?"

This is a competent story that begins well. The second chapter is called “Murder is Easy”. Did Agatha Christie borrow the phrase for her book of that name? Did Richard Hull turn it around when he wrote Murder isn’t Easy? We may never know. I did feel that the writing became flat in the middle of the book in particular and Travers is not a particularly memorable sleuth. Writing a compelling "howdunit" novel is a tough task: the danger is that interest focuses on the central trick and the pace drags. Bush was a decent writer, but very prolific, and it might just be that he slowed down the production rate and worked more on character and atmosphere, his fame would have lasted better than it has done.


J F Norris said...

Was there any "alibi busting" in this one? Bush liked to use that motif in his plots. I've only read one Bush book I liked: THE CASE OF THE GREEN HAT and I reviewed it a few weeks ago on my blog. Most of the time I threw in the towel with Bush. His writing as you mention here does tend to become flat at times. For me it becomes utterly tedious. But GREEN HAT held my interest all the way. To be kind he's one of those uneven writers.

Martin Edwards said...

John, it's the trick of how the crime was committed rather than the alibi that is the stand-out feature here. I suspect he simply wrote too much, but I'll look out for Green Hat.