Saturday, March 29, 2014
The Lake District Murder - John Bude
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!