He was one of the greats of the Golden Age of Mystery, and I’d never heard of him.
Christopher Bush (1885-1973) was, in his time, as well known as Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, and other members of The Detection Club. Over a period of 42 years, he wrote 63 Ludovic Travers mysteries, 10 mysteries under the pen name of Michael Home, a mystery under the name of Noel Barclay, and a memoir.
The Case of the Dead Shepherd, first published in 1934,is a cerebral puzzle of a story involving Travers, an amateur detective, and Superintendent George Wharton. Wharton is called to Woodgate Hill County School a day school for boys and girls run by a mean and rather obnoxious headmaster, who prefers to be called “the shepherd.” A teacher has been poisoned, and it appears the poison was administered by his drinking tea meant for the headmaster. He was found dying by a student, and the only clue seems to be the large catalog the dead man was clutching in his arms.
Before the headmaster can be questioned, he’s found bludgeoned to death in a small grove of trees and bushes adjacent to the school building. As Travers and Wharton go about the frustrating investigation, they discover there is no want of people who would have liked to have seen the tyrannical headmaster dead. The problem is that virtually all of the suspects can account for their whereabouts at the time of the headmaster’s death.
The investigation is frustrated, until Travers begins to take an unconventional look at the evidence and the alibis.
The book includes an informative and helpful introduction about Christopher Bush, including details on his prolific writing career.
The Case of the Dead Shepherd wasn't Bush’s first mystery, but it is a good introduction to his writing style, detective heroes, and plot development. It’s a finely entertaining mystery from the era of great mystery writing.
Top photograph: a grammar school in Surrey, near London, via Wikimedia Commons. Used with permission.