Rupert 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.