There's no question that "Dutch" Carver was nothing more than a young hooligan - a "Bovver boy," as Cockney slang would have it. Certainly, when he was murdered - his body stripped of clothing, his head shaved, apparently beaten - there didn't seem to be anybody mourning his death, not even his parents. To schoolmaster Carolus Deene, that seemed just plain wrong. Even if the police weren't particularly interested in Carver's death, Deene was determined to get at the truth about the murder. What he found is the subject of Leo Bruce's dark and powerful Death of a Bovver Boy, first published in 1974. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
Leo Bruce - the pen name of Rupert Croft-Cooke - is remembered today primarily for two series of mystery stories which he wrote between 1937 and 1974. The first featured a British policeman called Sergeant Beef and the books were mostly written as parodies of other popular detective story writers. In 1955, however, Bruce began writing about another character, Carolus Deene, a schoolmaster, a former commando, with his own sense of justice and morality. The Sergeant Beef novels, for the most part, have a light touch and are written with considerable wit and humor. The later books featuring Carolus Deene tend to be darker. Certainly that's true of Death of a Bovver Boy, which the author, in the very first sentence, calls "the ugliest case which Carolus Deene ever chose to investigate."
Deene’s housekeeper, Mrs. Stick, first brings the boy’s murder to her employer's attention, because her husband discovers the body of “Dutch” Carver abandoned by the roadside. The boy appeared to have been beaten, there are marks on the ankles and wrists, most of his hair appears to have been shaved off his head, and the body is completely naked. Deene dutifully reports the finding of the body to the police. But he is intrigued by the death – by the way so many people (including the police) seem to react with only a shrug or even with downright hostility towards the victim. So, working with the blessing of the local investigators, he begins asking questions – and is greeted everywhere with that same hostility. Was it because of the teen’s lack of social standing? His record of minor brushes with the law? Why did his parents seem to consider the boy’s death as merely another bother? The more Deene digs into the case, the more he becomes convinced that there is a great deal more going on here than the simple murder of one “bovver boy” by – perhaps – other groups of rivals and so-called friends.
It’s a story told, for the most part, without flinching from the ugliness of the case, and with very little humor. It's hardly a "fair-play" mystery; our detective really tells his readers very little until the final solution has been reached - and he must rely for that on a sort of confession. But the setting in the rural slums of England and amid the skinheads of the early 1970s, and the milieu of casual violence and seedy relationships that swallowed up many young people (and still does so today) make for a powerful book, well-written and certainly worth reading.