Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude

Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901–1957) was an English theatre producer and director who wrote more than 35 novels, 30 of which were crime fiction published under the pseudonym John Bude. The rest were released under his name. Writing as John Bude, most of the mysteries were led by Inspector William Meredith. The first two Merediths appeared in 1935 and 1936, The Lake District Murder and The Sussex Downs Murder. They have been reprinted by the British Library. Two other crime novels featured Inspector Green and two more featured Inspector Sherwood. He also wrote some stand-alone mysteries, the first of which was The Cornish Coast Murder (Skeffington, 1935).

The Reverend Dodd, Vicar of St. Michael’s-on-the-Cliff, and Dr. Dodd, of the village Boscawen in Cornwall, meet every Monday for dinner and to divvy up the books received from the lending library at Greystoke. They each take three and then exchange them midweek, shipping them back over the next weekend and submitting a new list of requests. They were reviewing this week’s delivery–an Edgar Wallace, an Agatha Christie, a J.S. Fletcher, a Farjeon, a Freeman Wills-Croft, and a Dorothy L. Sayers—when the telephone urgently summons the doctor to the home of Julius Tregarthan, who his niece reports as having been murdered.

While Tregarthan was a Parish Councillor, a church-goer, president of local clubs, a justice of the peace on the Greystoke Bench, and a generous patron of local charities, he was also subject to frequent bouts of ill temper, and he was generally disliked by those who knew him. He and his niece were known to be at odds over her relationship with a man new to the village, who moved in a few years previously and who was engaged in writing a novel. Tregarthan was thought to deal with his tenants unfairly and had been harsh with those brought up before him on charges while he was acting as JP. In addition, his housekeeper had seen him arguing with someone she did not recognize in the garden before dinner. In short, there is any number of possible suspects for Inspector Bigswell’s consideration.

The vicar is delighted to have a real-life mystery to use his deductive skills on and he involves himself as much as the inspector allows. The identification of a culprit brings him to a halt, realizing that a fictional mystery is quite different from a real-life mystery in which he knows all of the players.

Bude’s writing style is pleasant but not dramatic, especially in its evocative description of Cornwall. The book is unhurried while its momentum does not flag in its execution of the plot. I will be reading more of his work.

This review is based on the ebook version available at http://www.fadedpage.com.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson

The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson (Poisoned Pen Press, 2018) is the latest release in the British Library Crime Classics series. Originally published in 1932, this is the only mystery by the author, who was a Labour Member of Parliament much of her life, one of the first women to serve in that role. I am sure she was an effective representative for her constituents but her efforts could have as easily been directed into a string of well-done mysteries, had she chosen.

Post-war England desperately needs a loan and Georges Oissel, a reclusive multi-millionaire representing a consortium, has agreed in principle to extend the requested money but is making the details awkward. His long-ago friend from Canada, now the Home Secretary, is having dinner with him in one of the private dining rooms of the House of Commons to smooth over arrangements. The Secretary leaves his guest alone for a few minutes to attend the final vote on a matter of importance. Thus, when the Home Secretary’s Parliamentary Private Secretary Robert West and a friend hear a gunshot from within the dining room at the same time that the division bell rings and Big Ben strikes the hour of nine, West, his friend, and a waiter rush in to the room to find the crumpled body of Oissel on the floor and no one else. Windows were locked and suicide appeared to be the only answer. Except the forensic evidence doesn’t add up, setting Scotland Yard a pretty locked room puzzle.

West serves as amateur investigator, helping Inspector Blackitt of the CID and protecting his Secretary, not known for his brains or his ability, from political fallout. Along the way he provides unconscious insight to the political milieu of the time. The financier’s charismatic granddaughter, a political news reporter, and other MPs are all noteworthy characters who contribute to the unfolding of the plot as well as to the sense of time and place.

The introduction by Rachel Reeves MP helped me understand much of the context around this period story, when women in politics were still rare. The author spells out working conditions for women in the House of Common, where female MPs were allowed and where they weren’t. This fascinating commentary makes the book worthwhile reading on its own, with a well-executed mystery on the side.