Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Lake District Murder - John Bude

'The Lake District Murder' is the second title I've read from The British Library's crime classics series and it's proved to be every bit as enjoyable as the last one (The Santa Klaus Murder). The back blurb tells me that John Bude was the pen name of Ernest Elmore wrote 30 crime novels, all of which are now rare and collectable - their rarity is doubtless one reason I'd never heard of him. Elmore was also a co-founder of the Crime Writer's Association.

Whilst I was reading this it occurred to me that the majority of golden age detective fiction I've read has been written by women - specifically Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy L. Sayers all of whom chose to distinctly aristocratic detectives and all of whom seemed to have rather fallen for their own creations. This is especially true of Sayers who definitely overdoes it in 'Busman's Honeymoon' with her descriptions of Peter and Harriet's wedding night. I think Agatha Christie is more sensible but it's a shamefully long time since I've read her. Anyway after that lot a book about a bunch of fairly ordinary chaps solving a crime perpetrated by a bunch of other fairly ordinary chaps was oddly refreshing. There are women in 'The Lake District Murder' but they exist to make tea for their husbands and clean things - clearly there were no femme fatales in Penrith in 1935.

It also occurred to me (again) how much I like it when a book has a very specific, real, geographical location. I'm not well acquainted with the lake district, and it's almost always blanketed in driving rain when I'm passing through it, but even so I've seen enough to roughly know what it would look like and there's just something about being able to follow a book on a map that brings it alive for me.

Plot wise a body is found in an isolated garage, at first glance it looks like suicide, but a very little investigation throws this into doubt; the dead man's tea is waiting for him with a kettle boiled dry and now slowly melting still on the hob, and further investigation confirms the theory that it's murder. Unfortunately for the police there is no obvious motive for either suicide or murder but a lot of cast iron alibi's. There is also an earlier case which was ruled as suicide but with some doubts hanging over how it was done - what's going on amongst the lakes?

Slowly the police begin to suspect there must be a criminal gang at work who have had good reasons to dispose of the dead men, but what sort of gang and what can they be up to? Effectively then we get two investigations; the murder mystery (which is fairly standard fare) and the efforts to uncover whatever scam is being perpetrated on an unsuspecting public and under the very nose of the police. Coincidentally it turned out to be a crime very much after my own heart - I found it both clever and entertaining. Inspector Meredith is a likable hero speeding around the lakes in, or on, the police motorcycle and sidecar combination, he makes mistakes, try's to bend the evidence to fit his theory's, forgets odd bits of evidence (before remembering them or their significance in the nick of time) and is generally thoroughly human. The feeling here is of solid police work executed with the aid of a good pipe of tobacco, there is no psychology or quoting of metaphysical poets, but the plot is ingenious and the whole thing is entertaining fun. I'm really excited about this series generally, the British Library must have access to some pretty cool stuff, and the idea that someone is poking around in a dusty stack somewhere unearthing treasures is delightful (it's probably not that romantic or hands on in real life but this is how I dream it). However the process actually works the result in this case is a book that's both entertaining to read and interesting to consider alongside more familiar Golden Age titles - so basically an all round winner!     

6 comments:

  1. I have this & The Cornish Coast Murder. Hoping to get to them soon. Maybe TCCM should be my lunchtime book this week? I'm tossing up between that or Gladys Mitchell's On Your Marks (Greyladies). Thanks for the review.l

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    1. It was my lunch time read last week and just right for the job. I haven't got The Cornish Coast Murder yet but will probably pick it up as a souvenir next time I'm in the BL. I'm loving this series of reprints.

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  2. Love your comment on Busman's Honeymoon - such a let-down after Gaudy Night.

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    1. I re read the beginning a couple of weeks ago and was surprised at how it read - it was almost embarrassing, I felt like I was reading her personal fantasies and that's not really my thing. Some of her books I still love though, 'The Documents in the Case' used to be a favourite and I should go back and re read that some time.

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  3. I have got to read this! And I agree with you re. Dorothy Sayers. I loved the first book (Nine Tailors?), but after that, I just didn't like the books that much.

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    1. I loved her books in my teens and early twenties, especially the Peter and Harriet ones - it was the sort of love story that appealed to me then, but now it doesn't ring true at the end and there are a number of other details which haven't aged well either. The Bude is old fashioned but in a different way and I liked it for it's solid workmanlike quality.

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