Leo Bruce's books are much admired by Golden Age enthusiasts such as Barry Pike, who also once put together a pleasing volume of his short stories, but they are no longer well-known in the UK. There were some reprints in the US some years back, but in his native country, Bruce has been neglected for far too long. I've previously praised his excellent debut, Case for Three Detectives, in particular. Today I'm turning my attention to the final Sergeant Beef novel, published in 1950, Neck and Neck.
It's difficult to say too much about this book without a major plot spoiler, but I'll try to skirt round the central device. As usual, the story is narrated by Lionel Townsend, but in this book there's a difference - he and his brother are potential suspects in connection with the murder of his wealthy aunt. A third potential suspect has, in fact, been disinherited, and in any event has an alibi for the time of the aunt's death. So it's all rather baffling. Is Lionel's brother really guilty? Or is there some unknown motive?
Beef is also working on a death in the Cotswolds. A rascally publisher has been murdered, and the author has some fun at the expense of unscrupulous vanity publishers. The storyline darts hither and thither, but without ever becoming unduly distracting. Beef is, as usual, a commanding figure, and Lionel seems rather more sympathetic than usual, even though we suspect he has something to hide.
It may be that there are no original whodunit plots, but certainly the central idea here is handled in a way that struck me as fresh and pleasing. Even though I knew roughly what was going on, I found the story readable and enjoyable. A good mystery that certainly deserves to be better known.