William F. Deeck

LEO BRICE - Sergeant Beef

LEO BRUCE – Case with No Conclusion. Academy Chicago, paperback, 1984. First published in the UK by Bles, 1939.

   William Beef, former sergeant in the police force, has retired and taken up private investigation from quarters near Baker Street. Lionel Townsend, who recorded Beef’s previous two investigations, asserts that any claim that Beef “should be able to earn a living as a private investigator was beyond all human credulity.”

   Nonetheless, a client reasonably prompt!y appears, one Peter Ferrers, whose brother has been arrested for murdering a doctor. The doctor’s body was found in Stewart Ferrers’ library, with Stewart’s knife in the corpse’s throat and only Stewart’s fingerprints on the knife. There had, as is usual in such cases, been a violent quarrel between the two men only hours before. But what means the whiskey in the library that had been adulterated with arsenic?

   Beef does an excellent job of investigating in his own inimitable manner and concludes that Stewart Ferrers is indeed not guilty. Beef is, however, unable to prove that Ferrers didn’t do it or to apprehend the someone else who did do it.

   There is consternation, of course, among mystery writers and amateur detectives. As one publisher put it, “If novelists’ investigators cannot solve the problems created, who in the world can?” Monsieur Amer Picon, who appeared in Beef’s first major investigation, Case for Three Detectives, and who bears a distinct resemblance to Hercule Poirot, reacted this way: “Helas! Mon Dieu. Je ne sais quoi.”

   Such a failure by an amateur investigator is certainly unprecedented, and this may have been why Case with No Conclusion was not published in the US until 1984, whereas the next book in the series, Case with Four Clowns, a considerably lesser mystery, did find a publisher here in 1939.

   Suffice it to say that there is more here than meets the eye, but reviewers rules do not permit that additional information to be disclosed. Read and enjoy.

LEO BRICE - Sergeant Beef

LEO BRUCE – Case with Four Clowns. Frederick A. Stokes, US, hardcover, 1940. Academy Chicago, US, paperback, 2010. First published in the UK by Davies, hardcover, 1939.

   Sergeant William Beef, formerly of the police force, is now in unwilling retirement as a private investigator because of his last investigation, Case with No Conclusion. Beef was unable to prove that the man charged with a murder had not done it, although Beef was certain that the man had not committed the crime.

   No one will hire Beef, but he gets a note from his nephew, who is traveling with a circus. The nephew says he has been told by a gypsy fortune teller that there will be a murder at the circus.

   Beef manages to talk Lionel Townsend, the doubting chronicler of his investigations, into joining him in a tour with the circus. There Beef uncovers lots of enmities and jealousies, what might be an attempt at murder, and several “accidents” that could have been efforts at homicide.

   Despite a great deal of confusion and conflict, Beef, using his vast common sense, manages to make sense of the case. A murder does occur, but it’s not Beef’s fault.

   Circus fans should enjoy this one, and so should Beef admirers. I found it a bit slow, but Beef’s comments about mystery writers and amateur detectives kept me entertained. Townsend as chronicler is always amusing, as when he seriously tells Beef:

    “… Before we started on this business I had my eye on a young lady school-teacher in Murston who, I have been told, solves every interesting crime by an algebraic process which she works out during her scripture classes. She would, I believe, have made an excellent investigator for me to chronicle, instead of wasting my time running in and out of public-houses after you.”

   Why Beef puts up with Townsend and vice versa is as big a mystery as any that Beef has investigated.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 1988.