The Man Who Was Leo Bruce

A post today by Kate Jackson, who blogs at crossexaminigcrime, got my attention about an author, whose existence was practically unknown to me, and I decided to research more about him. Maybe my findings might be of some interest to readers of this blog.

The Man Who Was Leo Bruce, (Rupert Croft-Cooke, 1903-1979) by Curt Evans

Leo Bruce is a pseudonym for Rupert Croft-Cooke (1903-1979). Under this name, Bruce wrote several mystery novels. He created two series, one featuring Sergeant Beef, a British police officer, and a second in which Carolus Deene, senior history master at the fictional Queen’s School, Newminster, is an amateur detective. Croft-Cooke also wrote a large number of books, plays, short stories, and other work under his own name.

Sergeant Beef Series:

  • Case for Three Detectives (1936)
  • Case Without a Corpse (1937)
  • Case With Four Clowns (1939)
  • Case With No Conclusion (1939)
  • Case With Ropes and Rings (1940)
  • Case For Sergeant Beef (1947)
  • Neck and Neck (1951)
  • Cold Blood (1952)

Carolus Deene Series:

  • At Death’s Door (1955)
  • Dead for a Ducat (1956)
  • Death of a Cold (1956)
  • Dead Man’s Shoes (1958)
  • A Louse for the Hangman (1958)
  • Our Jubilee Is Death (1959)
  • Furious Old Women (1960)
  • Jack on the Gallows Tree (1960)
  • Die All, Die Merrily (1961)
  • A Bone and a Hank of Hair (1961)
  • Nothing Like Blood (1962)
  • Such Is Death (1963)
  • Death in Albert Park (1964)
  • Death at Hallows End (1965)
  • Death on the Black Sands (1966)
  • Death of a Commuter (1967)
  • Death at St. Asprey’s School (1967)
  • Death on Romney Marsh (1968)
  • Death with Blue Ribbon (1969)
  • Death on Allhallowe’en (1970)
  • Death by the Lake (1971)
  • Death in the Middle Watch (1974)
  • Death of a Bovver Boy (1974)

I look forward to reading Case for Three Detectives, A Sergeant Beef Mystery by Leo Bruce. Stay tuned.


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Case for Three Detectives by Leo Bruce, Geoffrey Bles Ltd. (UK), 1936)

descargaPossibly the most unusual mystery ever written. A murder is committed, behind closed doors, in bizarre circumstances. Three amateur detectives take the case: Lord Simon Plimsoll, Monsieur Amer Picon, and Monsignor Smith (in whom discerning readers will note likeness to some familiar literary figures). Each arrives at his own brilliant solution, startling in its originality, ironclad in its logic. Meanwhile Sergean Beef sits contemptuously in the background. “But, ” says Sergean Beef, “I know who done it!” (Source: Chicago Review Press)

Leo Bruce was the pen name of Rupert Croft-Cooke, who wrote more than twenty highly-praised mysteries featuring Carlous Deene. He also wrote eight mysteries featuring Sgt. William Beef, a cockney police detective who invariably “knows who done it.” Croft-Cooke died in 1980.

The Seventh Circle by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares

I copy and paste the following text due to its potential interest to readers of this blog.

borges-bioyThe police genre is one of the few literary inventions of our time. Distraction often confuses it with a less rigorous and less lucid genre: that of adventure. In this, however, there is no other unit than the attribution of the various adventures to the same protagonist or other order than that advised by the convenience of graduating the reader’s emotions. (Remember the Seven Journeys of Sinbad; remember the novels that delighted Don Quixote.) Instead, police fictions require severe construction. Everything in them must prophesy the outcome; but those multiple and continuous prophecies have to be, like those of the ancient oracles, secret; they should only be understood in the light of the final revelation. The writer is thus committed to a double feat: the solution of the problem posed in the initial chapters must be necessary, but it must also be astonishing. To complicate the mystery, it is forbidden to interleave useless characters, accumulate accomplices or skimp indispensable data; also, purely mechanical solutions are prohibited: electromagnets, which invalidate the fundamentals of locksmithing; the fast false beards, which disrupt the principle of identity; the machinery of slices and piolas, whose labyrinthine explanation exceeds the possibilities of attention; Nor should the police novelist enrich toxicology with scholarly and imaginary poisons, or endow his characters with unusual acrobatic, thaumaturgical or ballistic hypnotic faculties.

In police novels the unity of action is essential; also it is convenient that the arguments do not expand in time and space. Treat yourself, then, in spite of certain romantic additions, of an essentially classical genre. Even death is punctual in police novels; although it is never absent, although it is usually the center and the occasion of the intrigue, it is not used for morbid delegations, except in certain examples of the American school, which represent another regression towards the adventure novel.

The tradition of the police genre is very noble: Hawthorne prefigured it in some tale of 1837; the illustrious poet Edgar Allan Poe created it in 1841; it has been cultivated by Wilkie Collins, Dickens, R.L. Stevenson, Kipling, Eça de Queiroz, Arnold Bennett and Apollinaire; recently, Chesterton, Phillpotts, Innes, Nicholas Blake. It is possible to suspect that if some critics are obstinate in denying the police genre the corresponding hierarchy, this is due to the lack of prestige of boredom.

Paradoxically, the most relentless detractors of police novels tend to be those who enjoy reading the most. This is due, perhaps, to an unconfessed Puritan prejudice: to consider that a purely pleasant act cannot be meritorious.

So powerful is the charm that derives from this literary genre that there is hardly any police work that does not participate in it, to some extent. It could also be said that there is no reader who is completely insensitive to that virtue. Everyone admires the first police novel they read; This admiration, sometimes astonishing or unfair, constitutes an involuntary homage to the genre.

Unintentionally, the writers who have analyzed the police novel hurt her, because by insisting on the mechanism of the argument – in whom, in how and why. They have fostered, or tolerated, the mistaken belief that these novels have no other value than that of their argument and that it exhausts them. Those who profess that belief seem to forget that the police novel is, above all, a novel, that is to say a work in which the psychology of the characters, the effectiveness of the dialogue, the power of the descriptions and the style of the narrator have decisive value. A proof of the error of judging the police novels by the single argument is manifested in the frequent equation of essentially dissimilar works; Thus, the mystery of the yellow room and the equivocal form are often cited as two versions of the same problem – that of the murder committed in a closed room -: this assimilation, justifiable from a point of view, ignores the vast differences between Gaston Leroux and Chesterton.

Of all the forms of the novel, the police is the one that demands writers greater rigor: there is no phrase or idle detail in it; everything, in its course, tends at last, to delay it without stopping it, to insinuate it without giving it away, to hide it without excluding it.

From this delicate direction of the emotions and thoughts of the reader, one might perhaps compare this genre with oratory and theater. However, we do not think presumptuous to remember that the task of the police novelist is more arduous, since it is not aimed at a passive and easily suggestible crowd, but rather at isolated readers (always more insightful than the writer, according to Stevenson’s observation).

There was a time, now happily surpassed, in which diagrams, plans and schedules joined their generous efforts to exasperate the reader. From the mechanical and topographic it has been passed, now, to the human. The works of Eden Phillipotts, Nicholas Blake, Robert Player, Richard Hull, Patrick Quentin and Vera Caspary adjoin the psychological analysis novel; in those of Anton Chekhov, Graham Greene, Margaret Miller, Michael Innes, Cora Jarret and Lynn Brock, a tragic vehemence prevails; those of Anthony Gilbert renew the successful tradition of Dickens; those of James M. Cain are distinguished by an unbearable hardness; those of E.C.R. Lorac, Milward Kennedy and Clifford Witting continue and enrich the Orthodox school; those of John Dickson Carr, whose protagonist, Dr. Fell, combines the people of Dr. Johnson and Chesterton, play wisely with melodramatic terrors; those of H. F. Heard and those of Leo Perutz, with fantastic terrors.

We believe, finally, that the police novel exerts a beneficial influence on all branches of literature; advocates the rights of construction, of lucidity; of order, of measure.

Museum fragment. Unpublished texts by Borges and Bioy Casares. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2002 (Source: La Bòbila de Hospitalet Library, Barcelona

Last picture of Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares together. It was taken  by Julio Giustozza at Alberto Casares bookshop on 27 November 1985.

Other John Dickson Carr / Carter Dickson novels


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Harper & Brothers (UK), 1930)

As the Spanish saying goes: There’s no two without three, and my two previous blog entries would have been left incomplete without the specific mention of John Dickson Carr’s other novels. So please do bear with me and do not forget some of the following titles that I’ll be reading in the nearby future. Stay tuned.

From Wikipedia: Besides Dr Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale, Carr mysteries feature two other series detectives: Henri Bencolin and Colonel March. [Besides other standalone novels]

A few of his novels do not feature a series detective. The most famous of these, The Burning Court (1937), involves witchcraft, poisoning, and a body that disappears from a sealed crypt in suburban Philadelphia; it was the basis for the French movie La chambre ardente (1962).

Carr wrote in the short story format as well. Julian Symons, in Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History (1972), said: “Most of Carr’s stories are compressed versions of his locked-room novels, and at times they benefit from the compression. Probably the best of them are in the Carter Dickson book, The Department of Queer Complaints (1940), although this does not include the brilliantly clever H.M. story The House in Goblin Wood or a successful pastiche which introduces Edgar Allan Poe as a detective.”

During 1950, Carr wrote the novel, The Bride of Newgate, set during 1815 at the close of the Napoleonic Wars, one of the earliest full-length historical mysteries. The Devil in Velvet and Fire, Burn! are the two historical novels (involving also Time travel) with which he said he himself was most pleased. With Adrian Conan Doyle, the youngest son of Arthur Conan Doyle, Carr wrote Sherlock Holmes stories that were published in the 1954 collection The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes. He was also honored by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by being asked to write the biography for the legendary author. The book, The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was published during 1949 and received generally favorable reviews for its vigor and entertaining style.

Henri Bencolin series: It Walks By Night (1930); Castle Skull (1931); The Lost Gallows (1931); The Waxworks Murder (1932); and The Four False Weapons (1937)

As John Dickson Carr: Poison in Jest (1932); The Burning Court (1937); The Emperor’s Snuff-Box (1942); The Bride of Newgate (1950); The Devil in Velvet (1951); The Nine Wrong Answers (1952); Captain Cut-Throat (1955); Patrick Butler for the Defense (1956); Fire, Burn! (1957); Scandal at High Chimneys (1959); The Witch of the Low Tide (1961); The Demoniacs (1962); Most Secret (1964); Papa La-Bas (1968); The Ghosts’ High Noon (1970); Deadly Hall (1971); and The Hungry Goblin (1972)

As Carter Dickson: The Bowstring Murders (1934); The Third Bullet (1937); Fatal Descent aka Drop to His Death (with John Rhode, 1939); The Department of Queer Complaints (1940); Fear Is the Same (1956)

In bold letters some of the titles I look forward to reading.

About the Author: John Dickson Carr (November 30, 1906-February 27, 1977) was a prolific American-born author of detective stories who also published under the pen names Carter Dickson, Carr Dickson, and Roger Fairbairn. He is generally regarded as one of the greatest writers of so-called “Golden Age” mysteries, complex, plot-driven stories in which the puzzle is paramount. Most of his many novels and short stories feature the elucidation, by an eccentric detective, of apparently impossible, and seemingly supernatural, crimes. He was influenced in this regard by the works of Gaston Leroux and by the Father Brown stories of GK Chesterton. Carr modeled his major detective, the fat and genial lexicographer Dr Gideon Fell, on Chesterton. (Source: gadetection).

Sir Henry Merrivale Books


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Grosset & Dunlap (USA), 1934)

After my previous post on Dr Gideon Fell books, it seemed to me natural to follow it up with Sir Henry Merrivale books. What follows is a private note to keep me on track of my progression, that I thought it might be of some interest to readers of A Crime is Afoot. Without further ado, here we go:

From Wikipedia: Sir Henry Merrivale is a fictional detective created by “Carter Dickson”, a pen name of John Dickson Carr (1906–1977). Also known as “the Old Man,” by his initials “H. M.” (a pun on “His Majesty”), or “the Maestro”, he appeared in twenty-two locked room mysteries and “impossible crime” novels of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, as well as in two short stories.

He began as a fairly serious character but became more and more comic, at times even grotesque, as the series went on. When first introduced as a character, he was already an older man nearing retirement, and in the novel And So to Murder, set in late 1939, he referred to himself as being almost 70. (In Seeing is Believing while dictating his memoirs, he gives his date of birth as February 6, 1871) But his age became more ambiguous in subsequent novels.

He is a baronet and a barrister – in The Judas Window he actually appears for the defence in court in a murder case – and holds a medical degree. Besides these qualifications, he has a number of other talents, including stage magic, disguise and a vast knowledge of the history of crime. Based on his comments in some of the mysteries, he is married and has daughters, but his family members are not featured as characters in any of the books or stories.

In Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth, mystery writer Andrew Wyke’s most famous character is an aristocratic detective named St. John, Lord Merridew. This character was inspired by Sir Henry Merrivale.

Novels: The Plague Court Murders (1934); The White Priory Murders (1934); The Red Widow Murders (1935); The Unicorn Murders (1935); The Punch and Judy Murders aka The Magic Lantern Murders (1936); The Ten Teacups (1937); The Judas Window (1938); Death in Five Boxes (1938); The Reader is Warned (1939); And So to Murder (1940); Murder in the Submarine Zone (1940); Seeing is Believing (1941); The Gilded Man (1942); She Died a Lady (1943); He Wouldn’t Kill Patience (1944); The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (1945); My Late Wives (1946); The Skeleton in the Clock (1948); A Graveyard to Let (1949); Night at the Mocking Widow (1950); Behind the Crimson Blind (1952); and The Cavalier’s Cup (1953).

Short story collections: Merrivale, March and Murder (1991).

In bold letters the titles I look forward to reading of which I already have managed to get a copy.

Spanish titles: El patio de la plaga (The Plague Court Murders, 1934); Sangre en El Espejo de la Reina (The White Priory Murders, 1934); Los crímenes de la viuda roja (The Red Widow Murders, 1935); Los crímenes del unicornio (The Unicorn Murders, 1935); Los crímenes de polichinela (The Magic Lantern Murders / The Punch and Judy Murders, 1936);
La policía está invitada (The Peacock Feather Murders / The Ten Teacups, 1937); La ventana de Judas (The Judas Window / The Crossbow Murder, 1938);  Muerte en cinco cajas (Death in Five Boxes, 1938); Advertencia al lector (The Reader is Warned, 1939); Y así… al crimen (And So To Murder, 1940); Nueve y la muerte son diez (Nine and Death Makes Ten / Murder in the Submarine Zone, 1940); Seeing is Believing / Cross of Murder, 1941; Hombre de oro (The Gilded Man / Death and the Gilded Man, 1942); Murió como una dama (She Died a Lady, 1943); Empezó entre fieras (He Wouldn’t Kill Patience, 1944); La lámpara de bronce / El señor de las hechicerías (The Curse of the Bronze Lamp / Lord of the Sorcerers, 1945); Mis mujeres muertas (My Late Wives, 1946); The Skeleton in the Clock, 1948; Se alquila un cementerio (A Graveyard to Let, 1949); La noche de la viuda burlona  (Night at the Mocking Window, 1950); Detrás de las persianas rojas (Behind the Crimson Blind, 1952); y The Cavalier’s Cup, 1953.

About the Author: John Dickson Carr (November 30, 1906-February 27, 1977) was a prolific American-born author of detective stories who also published under the pen names Carter Dickson, Carr Dickson, and Roger Fairbairn. He is generally regarded as one of the greatest writers of so-called “Golden Age” mysteries, complex, plot-driven stories in which the puzzle is paramount. Most of his many novels and short stories feature the elucidation, by an eccentric detective, of apparently impossible, and seemingly supernatural, crimes. He was influenced in this regard by the works of Gaston Leroux and by the Father Brown stories of GK Chesterton. Carr modeled his major detective, the fat and genial lexicographer Dr Gideon Fell, on Chesterton. (Source: gadetection).

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