I don’t know quite what it is about old vintage murder mystery novels? but give me a village or traditional London setting sometime in the 1930’s or 40’s and it’s like wrapping a fleecy blanket of comfort around myself. I don’t at all feel like that about contemporary mystery novels which I rarely read – and when I do I try to pick them very carefully, but with vintage mysteries I feel I know where I am. It’s black and white movie territory where nothing too unseemly happens in front of the camera. The British Library Crime Classics series are right up my alley therefore – but this is only the second that I have read.
“Never, even in his most optimistic moments, had he visualised a scene of this nature – himself in one arm-chair, a police officer in another, and between them … a mystery.”
John Bude (the pseudonym for Ernest Elmore) it appears had a long career of murder writing, his novels were popular at one time, but until now, were out of print for a long time. The Cornish Coast Murder was Bude’s first novel – and while it certainly doesn’t have the complexity and ingenuity of Christie, Marsh, Sayers et al – but there is still much to recommend it, it is an engagingly readable example of golden age crime, with a rather adorable pair of amateur detectives. This is a novel very much in the cosy tradition – it is pure escapism. Much of Bude’s focus in this novel is character and setting, there is not much in the way of investigative high jinks. In fact the arm chair sleuth may feel slightly cheated not having enough information to solve the mystery themselves.
Set along the atmospheric Cornish coast of the title, the novel opens on an appropriately stormy evening in Boscawen. The Cornish coast, a good setting for a murder, makes for a rather nice change from the Greater London, or Home Counties settings of so many other novels of this period.
“In my opinion,” said the Superintendent slowly, “an arm-chair review of a case is often far more profitable than any number of enquiries and cross-examinations. You get a better perspective. More wood. Fewer trees.”
The Rev. Dodd is entertaining his friend the local doctor, the two old bachelors are enormous enthusiasts of detective fiction, volumes which they order then divi up between them and discuss at length afterwards. Following their dinner, the two friends are sat by the fire when the telephone rings, a call summoning Dr Pendrill to Greylings; a nearby cliff side house. Julian Tregarthan a secretive, mean minded local magistrate has been found shot at the home he shares with his niece Ruth. Pendrill and Dodd hurry to the scene where the local constable has already started the investigation into what happened.
It seems Ruth had recently had some furious arguments with her uncle over a relationship she was having with a writer; Ronald Hardy lodging in the village. Ruth claims she was coming home from a walk at the time the incident happened, and Tregarthan’s housekeeper Mrs Cowper and her husband the odd job man, were carrying out their duties elsewhere in the house when three shots, muffled by the noise of the storm, were fired through an un-curtained window at Tregarthan. Who was the man seen shouting at Tregarthan from the driveway of the house earlier that evening?
Inspector Bigswell is soon on the scene, utterly baffled by the lack of obvious clues, he seems to happily welcome the help and support of the Rev Dodd who in turn wastes no time in setting his mystery reader’s mind to the crime. Rev Dodd is not the kind of amateur sleuth who is in any way annoying, getting in the way, treading unthinkingly on toes of those paid to do the job – he is instead, a genial, humble enthusiast with a keen mind. Bigswell is under some pressure to sort the thing out before “the experts” – aka Scotland Yard are called in.
“That’s just where I must part company with you, Inspector,” said the Vicar with a gentle smile. “I’m rather a voracious reader of mystery stories, and it’s always struck me that the detective in fiction is inclined to underrate the value of intuition.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery, an easy engaging read set in a wonderfully atmospheric location. It has certainly put me in the mood for similar type novels from The British Library Crime Classics, and certainly Bude’s novel the temptingly titled The Lake District Murder very definitely appeals, particularly as I so love that area of the country.