Posts Tagged ‘John Bude’


I had to take a short break from A Century of Books to read this, just what I needed – as ever I reach for vintage mysteries when I am over tired. These British Library Crime Classics always tick the box. John Bude is a familiar name to readers of British Library Crime Classics, they have published (I think I am right in saying) six of his mysteries, though I had only read two prior to this one. John Bude was the pseudonym for theatre producer and director Ernest Elmore and he was a very prolific writer.

The Cheltenham Square Murder comes with one of those handy little street plans so beloved of mystery writers from the Golden Age. How necessary this simple little drawing is I’m wasn’t sure – but I admit I did find myself referring to it to several times.

cofThe novel opens in a small, tranquil regency square in Cheltenham Spa, ten houses in a u shape around a communal grassy area of shrubs and trees. The inhabitants are generally middle aged – and quiet living. It is certainly not the kind of place, one would expect to encounter sudden and violent death.

However, all is not quite as it seems. Several residents have been locked in a dispute over the fate of an old elm tree, and bank manager Mr Fitzgerald appears to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. Captain Cotton has been seen often in the company of Mr West’s wife, and set tongues wagging. Meanwhile the Misses Watt, are concerned with a secret they accidentally happened upon, while they nursed their neighbour Edward Buller in his delirium.

“There had come to his ears a strange, insidious sound – a faint zip, a long click, and a long drawn out sigh from Cotton. He swung round, puzzled, opened his mouth to speak and swayed there with his lips held slackly apart, staring. The glass dropped from his hand and was shattered on the parquet. He put down the decanter, shakily, took a couple of steps forward and again stopped dead.”

The square’s fraught rivalries are disrupted by the sudden, shocking death of one resident, shot in the head with an arrow through an open window. One of the other resident’s is a doctor and he is soon on the scene, but it appears that death was instantaneous. Suspects there are a plenty, especially as six of the square’s residents are members of the nearby Wellington Archery Club.

Fortunately for perhaps everyone but the murderer, celebrated crime writer Aldous Barnet has been staying with his sister at number 8, and Mr Barnet has invited his old friend Superintendent Meredith to stay while his sister is away. Meredith soon finds himself embroiled in the investigation alongside local policeman Inspector Long (whose ‘working class’ accent is just a bit overdone). They focus their attentions on the recently vacated house on the square – the skylights and a small landing window in a neighbouring house. The residents of the square are questioned thoroughly, with poor Inspector Long living in dread of his conversations with Miss Boon, a rather strident woman with a house full of dogs.

Secrets are there to be unearthed – and even a spot of blackmail to be revealed. Meredith and Long have their work cut out trying to figure out who did what and why. Just as they are starting to cast their collective suspicious eye on one particular person, there is another equally gruesome death on the square.

“One hand gripped the lapel of his velvet smoking-jacket. The other was closed over an unlighted cigar. His mouth was slightly agape. In three strides Meredith was across the room with the doctor close at his heels. Simultaneously their eyes met.”

Then Meredith hears about a bizarre incident on a farm, when a labourer found a ewe with an arrow buried in its head. Meredith can’t help but think that this must have something to do with his case.

No spoilers – I’m keeping this short. The Cheltenham Square Murder is an entertaining mystery with just enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. I eventually happen upon the culprit – but not very early on and only after changing my mind a couple of times.

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the lake district murder

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.

derewentClayton’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.

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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.

(The second post in a row – where I can find no author pic to post *sigh*)cornishmurder2

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