I really love these British Library Crime Classics – admittedly this is only the third that I have actually read, (I have two others tbr) – but the covers alone are so gloriously tempting! One of the other two BL crime classics I have read was The Cornish Coast murder also by John Bude – I loved the cosy atmosphere of that novel and the strong sense of place. If I’m honest, although I enjoyed this mystery, the complex unwinding of which will please many mystery fans, I did very much prefer The Cornish Coast Murder. That being said there is a lot to savour in this 1935 novel which was the first of John Bude’s Meredith mysteries. The Cornish Coast murder featured two amateur sleuths, amateurs are always fun, and the Rev. Dodd was such an engaging creation.
The Lake District Murder is set in a region away from the tourist areas of the Lake District, along the coastal area of Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport. On a March evening a farmer having run out of petrol further down the road, walks along to a remote garage on the road between Portinscale and Braithwaite. Here he makes a shocking discovery. One of the garage owners, Clayton, is sat in his car, a hose pipe attached to the exhaust, with the other end secured underneath a mackintosh wrapped around Clayton’s head. The police and a doctor are called, although there is no doubt that the man is dead.
“The man’s head was hooded in an oil-grimed mackintosh, which had been gathered in round the neck with a piece of twine. From the back Luke had mistaken this cowl for an ordinary leather driving-helmet. Frightened, bewildered, wasting no time on speculation, he laid his torch on the front seat and shot out a pair of shaking hands. Clumsily he undid the twine and drew aside the hood. Then, with an exclamation of horror, he started back and stared at the terrible apparition which confronted him. It was Clayton all right! Clayton with a fearfully distorted, blue –lipped, sightless face! He felt his heart. There was no movement! The man’s hand was cold!”
Everything points to suicide, but an investigation is begun as it must, and soon Inspector Meredith is having serious doubts that Clayton would have killed himself. Clayton was happily engaged to a local girl, their wedding just a few weeks away, he and his fiancée were planning a new life in Canada, and a witness who saw Clayton earlier in the day said how cheerful he was. Meredith is concerned, that this suicide could be murder staged to look like suicide, and he manages to get a post mortem ordered on the strength of his concerns. Meredith was right, Clayton had a powerful drug in his system, he was indeed murdered.
Clayton’s murder is soon linked to peculiar goings on at other remote garages, and soon Meredith is embroiled in a complex investigation. The mystery is a quite ingenious, it involves petrol companies, garages, hidden passages and a network of shady practices, Inspector Meredith is seriously tested in unravelling the details. Inspector Meredith is a middle- aged police man, a far cry from the angst ridden, loose cannon’s we are subjected to in modern police dramas, he is a traditional married man with grown up son, who manages to make it home for tea, and is always duly respectful to his superintendent. During his investigation Meredith shows himself to be a very practical and intelligent man. He rides around the countryside with his constable in a motorcycle and side car, enlists his photographer son’s help and constructs a brilliant piece of apparatus to aid the investigation. Eager for a result, Meredith refuses to get bogged down by the seemingly imponderable mystery, always throwing himself into every part of the investigation.
“The Inspector acted quickly. Running his bike behind a row of tar barrels, which stood on the edge of a little draw-in beside the road, he climbed the low wall at the foot of the fell-side and plunged into the spruce wood. Dodging this way and that among the thick and brambly undergrowth, he worked his way to a position somewhat behind and above the small group of buildings which constituted the Lothwaite. From a quick survey of the lie of the land, he realised with a thrill of excitement that it would be possible for him to get within ten yards of the group without any danger of revealing himself.”
The Lake District murder is more a 1930’s police procedural and the story of a well brought together investigation than the straight forward whodunit we expect from the golden age. Just as with The Cornish Coast murder, it is obvious that Bude knew the location well and had a great affection for it. The case is rich is detail and is a truly complex puzzle that keeps the reader guessing along with the investigators.