This 1991 collection brought together all the (then) known uncollected short stories by Leo Bruce, the pseudonym used by Rupert Croft-Cooke (1903-1979) for his murder mysteries, which first featured Sergeant (later Inspector) Beef (1936-1952) and later the amateur sleuth Carolus Deene (1955-1974). Beef appears in ten of the stories in this collection, which otherwise features another detective, Sergeant Grebe (who however never appeared in any of the novels), along with a variety of ironic tales with no series character.
I submit this review for Bev’s 2016 Vintage Scavenger Hunt; and Friday’s Forgotten Books meme hosted today by Todd Mason at his fab Sweet Freedom blog.
“There are cases of murder,” said my old friend Sergeant Beef, “in which the local man, the village bobby if you like, has all the clever boys from the Yard beaten before they start.” – from The Doctor’s Wife
Rupert Croft-Cooke was a remarkably prolific author under his own name, let alone the Bruce alias, but his mystery short stories have been largely ignored, so this collection of 28 brief tales, only two of which had ever been reprinted between covers, is particularly welcome. They were all written between 1950 and 1956 for publication in the Evening Standard newspaper, and as such are all quite brief. Most are cases of malice domestic, with spouses and assorted family members knocking each other off using a variety of ingenious methods. These are mainly orthodox detective stories (including some locked room mysteries) but there are also several inverted crime tales in which we know right away who the culprit is – the fun is in seeing how the complex plan will eventually be foiled.
“I could murder that woman,” said Mrs Plummery. “I know you could, my dear,” said her husband more soberly, then added: “Why don’t you?” – from A Glass of Sherry
We are usually offered only a small cast of characters so it isn’t always too hard to foresee who the guilty party will be, but usually we only find out in the final sentence just how the culprit was caught, the revelation always handled with great skill and much irony. There is plenty of ingenuity here, though in a couple of cases (specifically, Holiday Task and Into Thin Air), Bruce recycles the same solution to the miracle disappearance of a car. But there is plenty of variety here and much to entertain the Golden Age mystery fan.
“Don’t you mind living in a house where such a very horrible murder was committed?”asked Mr Stickles primly. – from The Scene of the Crime
This collection was put together by Barry Pike, who should be no stranger to the mystery fan, being Chairman of The Margery Allingham Society as well as editor of its journal, The Bottle Street Gazette and author of Campion’s Career: A Study of the Novels of Margery Allingham (1987), a signed copy of which I am proud to have on my shelves. He also provides a useful introduction to the author and his work, though one senses more than a little frustration at the elusive nature of the subject when he delivers one of my all-time favourite lines (one can truly feel the pain of it and sympathise):
“Despite his 27 volumes of autobiography, Rupert Croft-Cooke remains an elusive figure.”
Despite this, for more information about the author and this collection (and additional short stories that sadly weren’t included), you can do little better than visit The Books of Leo Bruce and then see what Curtis Evans had to say over at his blog The Passing Tramp; and don’t forget to check out typically on-the-money review by my good blogging buddy the Puzzle Doctor over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.
By turns funny and clever, these are highly amusing trifles, perfect to be read two or three at a time – I really enjoyed them.
I submit these this reviews for Bev’s Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the ‘pipe’ category: