Murder at Fenwold by Christopher Bush (1930)

‘Hye on a tree oure lord did henge and die

beneathe a tree the laste revere shall lye.’

The last of the Revere’s, Cosmo Revere is found dead in the grounds of his family home, Fenwold Hall. Has the prophecy been fulfilled? It appears that Revere had been indulging in his hobby of felling trees, but was stuck when a tree came down, swung as it fell and hit him. It looks like a tragic accident. Certainly it couldn’t be murder. But then, why was he felling so late at night? And why was the tree, and all other evidence, removed so hastily. 

At the request of the family lawyer, Travers and Franklin take up positions as undercover investigators at Fenwold Hall, with Travers upstairs, posing as a representative of the new heir, and Franklin downstairs, as Travers’s servant. Once installed, they find the Hall is beset with secrets. But do they involve Revere’s death? 

Bush give us a very strong beginning, in which the crime is actually uncovered by Geoffrey Wrentham, a character most notable for his appearance in The Plumley Inheritance. The relationship between Wrentham, Travers, and Franklin is well done, with lots of banter and friendship. Unfortunately, Wrentham exits the story soon after laying out his thoughts on the crime, which includes the use of some very good diagrams, and facts on the art of felling trees. I believe the story could have benefited by his continued presence, as the narrative soon becomes bogged down when Travers’ and Franklin’s investigations diverge. And it’s not helped by the fact that communication between Travers and Franklin becomes somewhat inhibited, with Travers learning little of what Franklin is really doing until well after. 

There are more than enough possible suspects, several of whom Bush develops to full advantage. We have Revere’s flirtatious niece Leila Fortescue, who vamps every man she comes across, and who makes poor Ludo rather uncomfortable. Mr. Haddowe, the affable vicar, is a man with a hidden past, and a passion for amateur theatricals. Captain Leeke, is the temperamental estate agent, seemingly involved with “the Fortescue”, but then, who isn’t? And Mr. Castleton, the late vicar’s son, a man without means, but an expensive collection of antiques. 

The middle of the story provided quite a bit of information, the appearance (or lack thereof) of some sketchy personages, and several suspicious episodes, but little action actually occurred. Bush does provide a few rather good red herrings, enough to make you suspicious of everyone, but of what? Then Bush ramps things up and the story begins to flow again in the last third. And believe me, the end is worth the wait, as Bush creates one of his typical twists, springing a late surprise on the reader.

So, all in all, not the best Bush I’ve read, but still worth a read.

My Judgment – 3.75/5

Prior Rulings – Kate @ Cross Examining CrimeThe Grandest Game in the World

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