I got a bit caught up in the excitement of the Christopher Bush reissues around 2017-18. With a mostly unheard of mystery writer who had published over 60 novels, I bought into the hype that maybe we had our next Christie or Carr to dive into. Cut Throat and The Case of the April Fools seemed to be the better reviewed books at the time, so I picked those up. Somehow I also ended up with The Case of the Three Strange Faces, which I don’t even recall seeing reviewed anywhere, as well as Dancing Death, which I received as a gift. I ended up reading Dancing Death first, and it was a total dud that burst my Bush balloon. It wasn’t an awful book, it just wasn’t worth reading.
So now a few years later I finally worked up my courage/curiosity enough to give Bush another chance. Dozens of other Bush titles have been reissued in the meantime, but I decided to go with Cut Throat as it still seems to crop up whenever anyone mentions Bush’s best work.
This one’s a bit of a mixed bag. The solution to the mystery is really solid, and is bound to appeal to fans of impossible problem shenanigans. I’m tempted to make a comparison to John Dickson Carr, but Carr layered his stories with a lot more misdirection that we get here. Still, Cut Throat does feature a really clever solution. It was a trudge to get there though. I struggled to make it through the first half, heavily tempted to give up. The second half featured some plot developments that lessened the toil, but the satisfying portions of the read only really come in the final dozen or so pages. I attribute this to Christopher Bush’s writing, although I can’t quite put my finger on the issue.
Do you ever find yourself reading a page and then realizing that you’re midway through it but you don’t remember anything that you read? And so then you go back and reread to where you were, and you’re like “boy, I don’t remember any of this, good thing I caught myself.” When that normally happens to me, it’s because my mind ended up wandering on some subject, like a tangent from something I just read, or maybe I’m thinking about what to cook for dinner. That’s my fault, and I just have to adjust my attention and get back to reading, or take a break and go focus on whatever thought distracted me.
With Bush though, I encountered a more uncommon phenomenon: I’m actively reading and trying to process what is going on, but there’s just something about the writing where nothing is clicking. An extreme case of this was when I slogged my way through a dozen densely written pages of Michael Innes’ Hamlet Revenge, before realizing that I could barely summarize a speck of what happened, and nor did I care to finish the book. Bush isn’t that extreme because his writing comes across as simple and straight forward, but there’s just something I can’t put my finger on where my brain rejects processing the writing into a narrative.
Through the haze of the first few chapters we get the murder of a newspaper magnate, his body stuffed into a large hamper along with a bunch of cabbage leaves. That sounds kind of interesting, but the delivery wasn’t. Bush’s duo of series detectives Ludovic Travers and Superintendent Wharton eventually track the hamper’s movement to the small town where the victim lived, and the story immediately tightens in on five suspects; not because of any actual detection mind you, but because there are simply five characters that we encounter.
Now, much ado is made of Bush as a writer of impossible alibi problems, and the Dean Street Press edition of Cut Throat is plastered with mentions of a cast iron alibi – which feels a bit spoilerish because you simply have to look for the one character with an air tight alibi. And indeed, it is trumpeted repeatedly that one of the suspects has an air tight alibi, although oddly we don’t actually learn what the alibi is until the final third of the novel. The scene in which we finally learn the circumstances of said alibi is the only passage in the entire book with an astute focus on detail, and it blatantly comes across as “this is the scene where you should pay very close attention to how individual X could have somehow found a three minute window in which to commit the murder.” And honestly, a three minute window leads to such an extreme time table problem that my eyes end up glazing over.
But, aha, Travers springs a clever solution in a (finally) interesting denouement in which he recreates the circumstances of the crime, and it’s a gripping read. Bush’s use of a multi-layered trick gives way to an especially well thought out murder, and I think I’ll remember the ending for some time.
I walk away from Cut Throat almost compelled to read something else by Bush. The Case of the Missing Minutes seems to be well regarded, although the title suggests a very similar timetable problem. I further hesitate because I don’t seem to be clicking with Bush’s writing style. Perhaps I’ll cool off for a year and get back to him.
13 thoughts on “Cut Throat – Christopher Bush (1932)”
Sometimes, I regret fanboying all over the alibi-trick here as it made some people hesitant to try The Case of the Missing Minutes, which is unfair, because they’re two entirely different mysteries. Cut Throat is in the Freeman Wills Crofts mold, while Missing Minutes is a more well rounded, ingeniously-plotted Golden Age mystery. So not at all the timetable puzzle its title suggest. And, in my opinion, Bush’s masterpiece. If you don’t like Missing Minutes, the series might not be for you.
I do have Missing Minutes on my Christmas wish list, so perhaps I’ll give it a try in a bit.
I love the solution here, but I agree, good God it’s a hard read… Missing Minutes is still vintage bush in that it follows his gimmick of “killer is obvious halfway through the novel, and a whodunit shifts to a howdunit”, but like TomCat said it’s a much more well-rounded detective novel. I hope you enjoy it!
I have read this, and can barely remember a thing about it. I can’t even remember what the clever trick was. April Fools has gone similarly. Now Chinese Gong I do remember a bit of, but mostly the implausible bits. I do have Missing Minutes, so maybe I’ll waste my own time by reading fourth book by an author whose books I haven’t even liked – but then again maybe not. There are other prolific mid-rank writers I enjoy more than this, for if I ever run out of the really good ones.
Yeah, at this point I just can’t imagine buying any more Bush novels, although I do have The Case of the Missing Minutes on the way. There are way too many other authors to read that I enjoy a lot more.
I still maintain this is one of Bush’s best; I remember the frustration of knowing who, but not how. But neither you nor J.J. liked it.
As for Three Strange Faces:
The answer of how this was done is very clever, but deserves to be in a far more interesting book — I was convinced to try this based on its Crofts comparisons, and it’s very much not a Croftian book…as you say, the detection at times is almost non-existent.
I didn’t get on with Aparil Fools, either, but will return to Bush in due course mainly because the guy wrote 60 books and so deserves more than two as a sample before dismissing him. Dean Street Press gamely recommended The Green Felt Hat to me on Twitter, and TomCat remains adamant that Missing Minutes is the one to read…so I’ll flip a coin in a few months and see what comes up.
Cut Throat is in no way Croftian (my computer auto-correct that to Croatian, and I suppose that’s true as well). Yes, you have police traveling to a few different towns and tracing the origins of a package, but that’s a low bar comparison.
Christopher Bush is a good example of why I don’t rush out to read the new hotly reviewed reissues. I get that we’re encouraging once obscure books becoming more widely available, but it seems like reviews are a bit too kind.
If it makes you feel any amount of trustworthiness in me, when it comes to reviewing books I try to keep it purely in mind of my contemporary perspective on it and not worry about the context of its publication. I don’t try to review more positively to “encourage” anybody (else my review of Tom Mead’s novel would’ve been a little nicer, or I probably wouldn’t have written three lukewarm reviews of Paul Halter). I just genuinely really liked the novels. 😛
TomCat, who also enjoys Bush, has also proudly discussed on his blog he doesn’t believe in writing falsely-positive reviews either, so I can at least speak for us two that we definitely aren’t metering our reviews. 😀
The thought never crossed my mind that you’d be posting untrustworthy reviews. I see you in the same category as me, which is someone reading what they want when they want, rarely posting an early review of a newly available title. Most often we’re many years behind. We owe a big debt though to the people blazing the trail of early reviews, or else many of these newer titles probably wouldn’t even be on our radar.
If I like it, I like it. If dislike it, I dislike it. Which is incidentally why I rarely get review requests anymore. 😀
I admit I might have overpraised Cut Throat on the strength of the alibi-trick alone, which I know regret, but have not heaped blind praise on Bush’s overall work. Same goes for Brian Flynn, whom I like a lot, but he produced some outright trash. Just look at my review of The Sharp Quillet, a current ROY nominee, which I thought was the poorest entry in the series. And an overall poor specimen of the Golden Age detective story. I think I even surprised some people with my “hot takes” on Tom Mead’s Death and the Conjuror and Golden Age Locked Room Mysteries, because you would assume I would be fanboying all over them.
So I always try to be fair, but sometimes personal tastes, preferences and my inner-fanboy can muddle things up.
Hey, you’ve helped me discover a ton of titles, including some really obscure ones, and I really value your reviews. I did notice you ragging on The Sharp Quillet, and was super confused a few days later when it received a nomination for Reissue of the Year!
Yeah, I’m with you on being stuck in hot water over my Death and the Conjuror review… I believe another blogger gave me a pretty passive-aggressive side-eyed remark for my dismissal of the central impossibilities, so at least we’re in a shared boat here, TomCat…