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Leo Bruce & Inspector Beef Mysteries
Leo Bruce (1903-1979) was a pseudonym for Rupert Croft-Cooke. Croft-Cooke began teaching as a private tutor in Paris at just seventeen. His first book was ‘Songs of a Sussex Tramp’, a poetry collection published in 1922. Later he spent two years in Buenos Aires, teaching English and managing the journal l’La Estrella’. In 1925 he returned to London as a free-lance journalist and writer, and finally opened a bookshop in Rochester, Kent. He joined the British Army in 1940 and saw service in Africa and India. After his discharge in 1946 he returned to writing and became the book critic for ‘The Sketch’, a position he held until 1953. He was one of the last people to be arrested in Britain under the harsh homosexuality laws of that era. He died in June of 1979.
His two main contributions to the mystery genre are the Sergeant Beef series, featuring a plain, brawny, droopy-mustached, British copper (later private detective) from the Braxham village constabulary. Beef was clearly designed by Bruce to mock the eccentric great detectives of Golden Age British mystery fiction. After his arrest and legal problems, Bruce abandoned Sergeant Beef and started the Carolus Deene Series, which feature a history master at the fictitious Queen’s School of Newminster.
Case for Three Detectives (1936)
Inspector Beef Series
Locked Room Review
Available in paperback and ebook editions.
Note: Beef outdoes the best!
‘A Case for Three Detectives’ is high on Edward Hoch’s list of Best Locked Room mystery novels. This is a great mystery genre tour which involves various Golden Age detectives, easily recognizable despite the altered names, including, Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey and Father Brown. Each offers a brilliant solution to the murder – but they all turn out wrong and it is finally left to the plodding Sergeant Beef, assisted by his ‘Watson’, Lionel Townsend, to actually solve this locked room case.
Note: No body?
This is one of Sgt. Beef’s most interesting and perplexing cases. It involves a murder, but one in which no body can be found. Young Rogers announces to Beef and others assembled in a local pub that he has committed a murder—then takes his own life. But where is the victim? How did it happen? “I always supposed,” says Beef. “a murder case started with a corpse, and then you had to find out ‘oo done it. This time we know ‘oo’s done it, but we can’t find the corpse.”
Note: No victim or murderer?
One of the rarest mysteries in the Sergeant Beef series. Case with Four Clowns has only been published once in the US – more than fifty years ago and is now available in paperback for the first time.
It is regarded by critics as one of Leo Bruce’s most baffling mysteries. A murder is yet to be committed -that much is certain – but who will be the victim? And who will be the murderer? It is Sgt. Beef’s job to discover these facts, if he can, in time to prevent the deed from being done.
But when he reaches the small traveling circus where the murder is to take place, he finds that practically everyone there is seething with hatred, each has a motive which might make him a killer; and any one of a dozen people could easily be the victim.
The doughty Sgt. Beef has broken some pretty tough cases, and this one – with mystery entagled within mystery – stirs the bulldog within him. The clues are there, but unless the reader is very astute, he or she will overlook them; but Sgt. Beef misses nothing.
Note: Beef, Private Eye!
Once again Lionel Townsend, Beef’s Dr. Watson, faithfully records the redoubtable Sergeant’s escapades. Beef has left the Braxham police and gone into business for himself. Beef gets a client, Stewart Ferrars, who has been arrested for the Sydenham Murder. Beef is hired by Stewart’s brother Peter to prove Stewart is innocent of the murder of Dr. Benson, who has been found stabbed in the throat in the library of Peter’s gloomy Victorian mansion, The Cypresses. An ornamental dagger with Peter’s fingerprints on it has been left on a table near the dead man’s armchair.
Note: Suicide or murder?
The Coroner’s Jury found that the boy hanged in the school gymnasium had killed himself, but Sgt. Beef disagrees. He takes a job as a temporary school caretaker, abetted by the reluctant Townsend – Beef’s biographer – whose brother is a master at the school. Beef’s methods are not to Townsend’s liking, as they entail endless games of darts and beer all around in the local pub. Then there is another remarkably similar murder which occurs elsewhere and Beef bestirs himself to uncover the guilty.
Note: Almost the perfect murder!
In the cleverly plotted Case for Sergeant Beef, Mr. Wellington Chickle, a retired watchmaker, plans the perfect murder, but he chooses the wrong victim. The dead man’s sister refuses to accept the idea that her brother committed suicide and calls in the unprepossessing Sgt. Beef who unravels the plot with the aid of the local police. Meanwhile, Townsend, Beef’s indefatigable chronicler, comes to a completely different – and completely wrong – conclusion.
Note: Townsend suspect #1!
Lionel Townsend, Beef’s toffee-nosed biographer, finds himself a prime suspect when his aunt in Hastings is poisoned. At the same time, an unpopular publisher is found hanged in the Cotswolds, apparently a suicide. While the two cases seem to have nothing whatsoever in common, Sergeant Beef tramples his flatfooted way to amazing, simultaneous solutions.
Note: Who killed Cosmo Ducrow?
At first there seemed to be no doubt who killed Cosmo Ducrow, the recluse millionaire, with a croquet mallet, but the police are reluctant to arrest the obvious suspect. To force their hand, Sergeant Beef and his tireless chronicler, Townsend, are called in to solve the crime. Then Beef’s unorthodox methods almost lead to a second murder.
Sgt Beef Short Stories
Murder in Miniature (1993)
Short Story Collection
Available only in used hardcover or paperback editions
Note: 28 super shorts!
‘Murder in Minature’ is a collection of 28 short-shorts by this master crime writer, all but one originally appeared in the London Evening Standard between 1950 and 1956, and most had been lost until the publication of this collection in 1993. Most capers cover five to seven pages and focus on plot puzzles; the characterization is deft but stripped to the bone. Ten of the tales feature Sergeant Beef; eight follow Sergeant Grebe. Crimes include murders, by poison, by blunt instrument, and by a long walk off a high cliff. The dead are circus midgets, spouses, stingy drunks or quiet neighbors. Justice usually prevails, at least indirectly.
There are 10 Sergeant Beef Stories in this collection:
Clue in the Mustard
Murder in Miniature
The Doctor’s Wife
Beef and the Spider
Summons to Death
The Chicken and the Egg
I, Said the Sparrow
A Piece of Paper
‘Beef for Christmas’ is another lost Leo Bruce story. Read on line: ‘Beef for Christmas’