Case for Three Detectives (1936) by Leo Bruce

I had been looking forward to reading this for sometime: a locked room mystery with three false solutions, provided by parodies of three highly renowned fictional detectives, before the truth is provided by the humble Sergeant Beef. Could it possible live up to its promise? Short answer YES but please keep reading…

The Thurstons’ weekend house-party is going well until screams are heard from upstairs. When the guests have rushed upstairs and broken down the door they find their hostess dead with her throat slit. Before the night is over Sergeant Beef, the local policeman, has made his examination of the crime scene and already formed his conclusions, however:

“Quite early the next morning those indefatigably brilliant private investigators who seem to be always handy when a murder has been committed, began to arrive. I had some knowledge of their habits, and guessed at once what had happened to bring them here. One had probably been staying in the district, another was a friend of Dr. Tate’s, while a third, perhaps, had already been asked to stay with the Thurstons. At any rate, it was not long before the house seemed to be alive with them, crawling about on floors, applying lenses to the paint-work, and asking the servants the most unexpected questions.”

The first is Lord Simon Plimsoll and his three Rolls-Royces: one for him, one for his man-servant Butterfield, and one for “a quantity of photographic apparatus”.

He is followed by Amer Picon (incidentally the only acceptable tipple for GAD fans – JJ can tell you what it tastes like) with his egg-shaped head who has “more command of the French language than I had previously credited him with”.

Finally, we have Monsignor Smith “a small human pudding” who speaks in paradoxes.

Lionel Townsend, our narrator, works alongside all three as they consider the evidence and each come to their own conclusion.

The pastiches are brilliant, amplifying the idiosyncrasies of the three sleuths upon whom they are based, but without toppling into the ridiculous, and, which is even more impressive, their solutions are consistent with their characters and could have come from their original creators.

Despite this not being a fairly-clued mystery (its structure means that it couldn’t be) Sergeant Beef’s explanation of the locked-room is highly satisfactory and could, with some tweaking, have worked well for a “regular” mystery.

So this is a top-drawer mystery whilst also being laugh-out-loud funny and will gladden the heart of any GAD enthusiast but I advise that you read a good quantity of Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, and Father Brown first because you’ll appreciate the humour even more. Au revoir, mes amis as the great M. Picon would say!






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