Leo Bruce was the crime writing pseudonym of amazingly prolific writer Rupert Croft-Cooke who wrote well over a hundred books under his own name from 1920 until 1975, along with over thirty crime novels as Leo Bruce and numerous short stories under both names. This is the first of his crime novels and along with it being a really fun parody of other writers it introduced his plain speaking Sergeant Beef who has no time for the amateur detective so beloved of so many other authors. Indeed the three detectives in this book are very thinly disguised famous other detectives Lord Simon Plimsoll is clearly Dorothy L Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey, Monsieur Amer Picon is Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Monsignor Smith is Father Brown by G K Chesterton, this will be the first, and presumably last, time all three will work on the same case but they do not work together.
The crime occurs in a large country house, home of Dr. Thurston and his wife Mary who are hosting a group of their friends for the weekend. After the evening meal, which had featured a discussion about murder mysteries, Mrs Thurston goes to bed at about eleven o’clock. Shortly afterwards there are some screams heard, the guests rush upstairs to the Thurston’s room and discovering it bolted break down the door and inside find Mrs Thurston lying on the bed with blood all over the pillow. A brief search is made but nothing relevant found so how was she killed inside a locked room? A car is sent for the local village police sergeant along with the Dr Tate the village’s general practitioner as the phone line to the house is cut, the doctor confirms that Mrs Thurston is definitely dead from a cut throat and Sergeant Beef checks the scene and states that he knows who did the murder but being just the local copper is completely ignored by everyone else. The book is written in the first person as though by one of the guests to the house party.
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.First paragraph of chapter five
The three detectives seem a little put out at first that all of them were there but agree to apply their own methods to solving the case, having a good look round not only the house and grounds but spreading their investigations to neighbouring villages as well. they convene that evening to question the guests and the servants at the end of which all three claim to be on their way having theories about solving the case and Sergeant Beef is getting more and more exasperated as he explains that the ain’t got a theory as he don’t need one as he knows who did it. Everyone continues to ignore and dismiss him as he is just a lowly village sergeant so what would he know?
On the second evening the group gather again to hear the three detectives explain how the murderer go in and out of a locked room and whom it was, why they did it and the name of their accomplice that was needed in order to effect an escape via ropes that were found secreted in the water tank in one of the top rooms of the house. Each solution is more and more ingenious and of course the three detectives give completely different solutions and alternative suspects, all of which fit the clues as we know them, whilst ruling out their compatriots reasoning. In the following confusion it is finally down to Sergeant Beef to explain what really happened.
The book is great fun especially if you are familiar with the three detectives being parodied here as their mannerisms and styles are so well sent up. I had no knowledge of Rupert Croft-Cooke aka Leo Bruce before reading the book and didn’t know I was in for a very funny parody when I got the volume off the shelf, it was a green (therefore crime) Penguin book and that was what I felt the need for at the time and expected a much more serious tale but I loved it.