Case for Three Detectives by Leo Bruce (1936)

Mrs. Mary Thurston has been murdered in a room where the door was triple bolted, and all of the windows closed. Sergeant Beef is the policeman on the spot, but the next day three amateur detectives arrive to take the case. Lord Simon Plimsoll, Monsieur Amer Picon, and the Monsignor. Each investigates in their own way, and each arrives at a solution. Problem is, each solution points to someone different, and each is equally wrong. Oh, but Sergeant Beef has it all figured out. 

This is an amusing satire of the mystery genre in which Bruce points out its flaws by spoofing several famous fictional amateur detectives. Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey, Father Brown as well as each and every one of their quirks are skewered. And then they are out-detected by the very ordinary way in which the local plod, Sergeant Beef, solves the crime. 

The writing is sharp, the dialogue witty, and the characters interesting. While I acknowledge all of that, I have to say this was not a book that I truly enjoyed. The mystery got lost in all of the parody, and the longer the parody went on, the less interesting it became. And, the less amusing the detectives became, mostly Plimsoll, who went from wit to snark fairly quickly. 

The shame of it is (at least for me) that there was a pretty good locked room mystery here. To make the spoof work not all of the relevant clues are revealed until the end, but if they had been I think they could have been used to add to the parody, and the contest between supposed dullard Beef and the three great ones. 

Granted, it may be that it was just the parody I did not enjoy, or maybe I was just having a bad day. Either way, I’ll give another of the Sergeant Beef novels a try just to see.

My Judgment –3.5/5

Prior Rulings – Dan @ The Reader is Warned, Kate @ Cross Examining Crime, The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – Vintage Mystery Challenge 2013 – Scattergories – #16 Locked Rooms

Murder Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge – Red Herrings: Butler

Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge – December #7: Book title has a word starting with “D”

4 thoughts on “Case for Three Detectives by Leo Bruce (1936)

  1. Part of me wants to be scandalised that you rated this so averagely…but I read this at a point where my locked room fandom was just beginning to take flight — and was swept away by the sheer cheek of the satire without feeling it got in the way…so I think I look upon it with a sort of reverence that it may not fully deserve just through the alchemy of serendipity. I mean, it has four locked room solutions! How could I not love that?!

    I’m not entirely sure if the other Beef books quite reach these heights, but Case for Sergeant is — perhaps not unexpectedly — a good parody of the inverted mystery, and Case with No Conclusion is very, very enjoyable for how it plays out its central premise. I’d recommend either of those as your next stopping point for Bruce/Beef.

    1. Considering all of the reviews that rated ut so highly, I knew I was bordering on heresy when I was writing the post😜. Maybe that was the problem…my expectations were too high? And believe me when I say that each solution was fabulous. I got the parody, but for me there was no fun in it. Maybe more of Beef playing off of the Three detectives, with mutterings under his breath as they theorize.

      I’ll definitely look for Sergeant or No Conclusion. BTW, did you know that someone has posted all of Bruce’s Sgt Beef books to a blog?

      1. I feel the same way about the second book, Case With a Corpse — the core idea is brilliant, but the execution is so devoid of fun that, while it’s undeniably clever, I found it it something of a chore. And Case with Four Clowns doesn’t even really have that going for it — it’s the Miss Pym Disposes of the Beef novels: 280 pages of circus life, and then a hasty murder plot tacked on the end (and it spoils Case with No Conclusion on its first page — like, what the hell, Rupert?).

        Thanks for the link; I wonder what the copyright situation is that makes that possible? I should really get to the Carolus Deene books at some point, too.

      2. Seems that the blog is “owned” by the Leo Bruce Society in Australia. Australia copyright law states it extends to 70 years from the death of the author. Bruce died in 1979…so he should still be under copyright. The site claims “Works by Leo Bruce are copyright © 1936 – 1974”. I get very confused when it comes to copyrights.

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