Murder In Miniature by Leo Bruce

Murder In MiniatureRupert Croft-Cooke was a prolific writer who, under the pseudonym Leo Bruce, wrote over thirty detective novels between 1936 and 1974. The first eight feature Sergeant Beef and the remaining feature Carolus Deene (about whom I know absolutely nothing). Between 1950 and 1957, Bruce also wrote a bucketload of short stories, some featuring Beef, some featuring Sergeant Grebe and some without a sleuth. Those stories were written for the Evening Standard – and they are all reproduced in this collection.

There are twenty eight mini-mysteries here, tales of would-be perfect crimes, masterclasses of deduction and scheming murderers. But it’s a fairly pricey tome – is it worth your while?

I came across Leo Bruce and Sergeant Beef in the recent Silent Nights collection from Martin Edwards and the British Library and I really enjoyed the tale therein – probably the best of the whole collection. And that tale of Sergeant Beef is apparently the only short story that is not collected here. I’d never heard of the books but clearly some of my readers had so this collection went on the Christmas list and luckily Santa decided to bring it. And it’s been living in the bathroom ever since.

That’s not a bad thing, by the way. It’s just that the stories are so short – mostly about eight pages of medium size print – that they don’t take very long to read. Hence the choice of reading location.

What’s impressive is how much story is crammed into each brief tale – Bruce makes Edward D Hoch look like a rambler – without compromising the plot or the charm of the narration. Bruce has a talent for producing an entertaining and intriguing little mystery that holds the attention and still manages to trick the reader nine times out of ten.

It’s remarkably hard to effectively review stories this short without giving spoilers – although I do wonder why Beef is abandoned for the somewhat duller Grebe in later. But this is a lovely collection of little tales that are well worth your time. On the strength of this, I’ll be back to Bruce soon – a number of his tales are available as slightly pricey ebooks. I’ll let you know if they’re worth your investment. But in the meantime, this one is Highly Recommended.

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18 comments

  1. Thanks for the review – a pity that this compilation isn’t available as a Kindle book. Am I right in thinking that you haven’t tried any of Bruce’s novels? I’m thinking of trying ‘Case for 3 Detectives’.

    P.S. I’ve just finished reading ‘Polly Carter’!

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  2. I have read only one story “I, Said The Sparrow” which appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (June 2008). I didn’t particularly like it.

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    • Santosh, nooooooo! This is our first disagreement! Next thing you know, one of us is sleeping on the couch, then we’re passive-aggressively sniping at each other in front of our friends. From there it’s just a downwards spiral…at least think of the children, eh?

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  3. I’m a huge fan of Bruce. Not only is …Three Detectives the finest pastiche of GA detective fiction ever likely to be written its also a fantastic locked room murder into the bargain, but his other books are equally as good (if not as showy). Case With No Conclusion, in particular, does so many very clever things in such an understated way, and Lionel Townsend is one of my favourite narrators probably ever. I’m dragging out starting the last couple of Beefs because when they’re gone, well, what do I do then?

    The couple of Carolus Deenes I’ve read are far more straight-laced, and I fell upont this collection in hope of more Beef-based fun. I agree that they’re pretty quick and with nary a ounce of fat on them, and every so often he manages to get away with something very clever indeed (‘The Wrong Moment’ say, or ‘I, Said the Sparrow’). As stories written for a newspaper, they’re of a far higher quality than one would reasonably expect.

    They don’t hold a candle to the novels, though. I imagine you’ll love …Three Detecives when you get there. Good luck reading it and then not rushing out for more!

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  4. Agreed. This collection is a great example of Bruce’s talent and proved he was as apt at writing (extremely) short stories as he was at full-length mystery novels. However, I’ve to point out there were two (semi-impossible) disappearance mysteries in this collection that employed the same explanation, but I have been pretty much the only one who’s been nitpicking about that. So most readers probably won’t mind that in collection of counting nearly thirty stories.

    I should give the Carolus Deene novels a second shot. Death in Albert Park was disappointing and shockingly unoriginal, originality was a defining trait of the Sgt. Beef series, but the Deene series is supposed to one or two gems in them. But I’m not expecting anyone of to reach the same heights as Case for Three Detectives, Case for Sgt. Beef and Cold Blood, which was one of my favorite reads from last year.

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  5. All right, I have selected Case For Three Detectives for my next reading. However, I would like to mention that I was not impressed by Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley.

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  6. I have finished Case For Three Detectives. It is very good with a clever plot. Also quite humorous, it being a parody of 3 famous fictional detectives Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot and Father Brown. Readers familiar with these detectives will enjoy it more.
    However, it is not a fair play mystery. Certain facts found by Sergeant Beef are not disclosed to the reader till the solution is revealed.

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  7. I have finished Case Without A Corpse. It is not as good as Case For 3 Detectives. The solution, though clever, is predictable to any experienced mystery reader. It is a spoof of Inspector French (F.W.Crofts) in the form of Inspector Stute with his emphasis on order and method and drawing up time tables.

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  8. […] Despite this, for more information about the author and this collection (and additional short stories that sadly weren’t included), you can do little better than visit The Books of Leo Bruce and then see what Curtis Evans had to say over at his blog The Passing Tramp; and don’t forget to check out typically on-the-money review by my good blogging buddy the Puzzle Doctor over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel. […]

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