Leo Bruce was born Rupert Croft-Cooke on June 20, 1903, in Edenbridge, Kent, England, the son of Hubert Bruce Cooke and Lucy Taylor Cooke. Little information—beyond the standard sketchy biographical data—is available on Bruce’s life. He was educated at Tonbridge School, Kent, and Wellington College (now Wrekin College); from 1923 to 1926, he attended the University of Buenos Aires, where he founded and edited a weekly magazine, La Estrella.
Bruce’s career seems primarily to have involved either writing or the military, both in England and abroad. The exceptions were two years (1929-1931) spent as an antiquarian bookseller, and one year’s experience as a lecturer at the English Institute Montana in Zugerberg, Switzerland. Beginning with a stint in the British Army Intelligence Corps in 1940, Bruce went on to serve in the 1942 Madagascar offensive (for which he was awarded the British Empire Medal) and as commander of the Third Gurkha Rifles in 1943. Continuing his service on the Indian subcontinent from 1944 to 1946, Bruce was a field security officer in the Poona and Delhi districts and an intelligence school instructor in Karachi, West Pakistan. He returned to England to work as the book critic for The Sketch before deciding to concentrate on his freelance writing career.
Earlier, during the 1930’s, Bruce had spent several years as a writer; during that decade, he wrote plays, some twenty books, one collection of short fiction, and translations of Spanish works. After his years in the military, he produced several autobiographical volumes, biographies of a wide variety of figures (including a controversial life of Lord Alfred Douglas), at least three books on cookery, some poetry, and even one foray into literary criticism—a commentary on several Victorian writers. All along, Bruce was writing the detective novels that would earn for him acclaim as “a major British detective story writer of salient merit.”
Bruce’s first detective novel, Case for Three Detectives (1936), was also the first book for which he employed the pseudonym Leo Bruce, under which all of his detective novels would be published. In this book, Bruce introduced the plebeian Sergeant Beef, whose exploits he recounted until 1952, when Bruce inexplicably abandoned Beef after eight novels. The wealthy, university-educated Carolus Deene first appeared in At Death’s Door in 1955. Bruce wrote only a few more books after he abandoned the detective novel in 1974. He died on June 10, 1979.