Title: The Sussex Down Murder by John Bude (1936, 2015) 4stars****Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press. 288 pp
Genre: English mysteries, cozy, British mystery, Poisoned Pen Press, traditional mystery, British Library, historical, John Bude
The British Library is republishing many of their Classic Crime and Spy novels, with the Poisoned Pen Press responsible for the U.S. editions. There will be twelve published this year (two per month, with one per month slated for 2016.) Many of these books have been out of print or difficult to find. Some of these Golden Age Crime writers are perhaps unknown to the American audience. Each book features stunning cover art pertinent to the era (20/30s Britain). They will be available in paperback and Ebook. Of note, Martin Edwards provided guidance for this project as the archivist for CWA (and for Detection Club). Two books will feature short fiction edited by Edwards. I have always valued the Poisoned Pen’s collection of mysteries for providing excellent reading experiences (there are over 700 titles).
The May selection for the Poisoned Pen Press was The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude who was the cofounder of the Crime Writers’ Association. Ernest Elmore wrote 30 mysteries between 1935-1957 under the pseudonym of Bude, most featuring Inspector William Meredith (Sussex is the second in his respected series; the first was The Lake District Murder). Meredith is modeled after Freeman Wills Croft’s Inspector French (fortunately his books are also due to be reprinted!) Bude’s accomplished writing style is detailed, informative and engaging. Locations are well researched and locals are accurately portrayed. This is classic England. Bude/Elmore was also a producer, director in theatre. His early death cut short a promising writing career (routine operation).
Trouble is brewing between the two Rother brothers, farmers and lime kiln burners of Chalkland Farm. Foul play begins with a missing body, murder, and mysterious figures in the village of Washington, Sussex. Superintendent Meredith (just promoted after his last case) struggles with the myriad clues, making painstakingly, painfully slow progress. His in-depth discussions with his superior are engaging and provide the reader with both thought process and witness to events.
The Sussex Down landscape is a central character in this book and Bude provides glorious descriptions and minute detail in this readable, intricate puzzle. Much will be discussed and discarded as clues are found, deadends are sidestepped, red herrings are finally ignored, a mysterious man is uncloaked, timetables are created and the relevant clues reveal the killer.
I can remember reading his books and enjoyed reacquainted with the characters. It felt quaint and old fashioned (very little in the way of female input); I recognized the outcome and still enjoyed the read. These are early police procedurals, no DNA, but fingerprints and hard work over the two month investigation. This had a satisfying real life feel complete with humour and local insights which will have you looking for more of his stories as the characters develop.
This is a perfect beach read, rainy day read or anytime for PBS fans. I purchased my own copy, partly because I just loved the cover. Isn’t it East Sussex?
If you are a fan of Downtown Abbey, these between the war novels will be especially enjoyed.
If you are a fan of the classical whodunnit, read on! As well as anyone interested in English history/ local culture.
If you like Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon(Insp Maigret) or WJ Burley(Wycliffe).
Don’t forget to follow the rest of these reprints as they are released.
Opening scene: Dominating that part of the Sussex Downs with which this story is concerned is Chanctonbury Ring. This oval cap of gigantic beeches may be seen, on fine days, from almost any point in the little parish of Washington. It is a typical village of two streets, two pubs, a couple of chandlers, a forge, an Olde Tea Shoppe, and a bus service.
Don’t do a beggar no ‘arm in ‘ere to do a bit o’ skypiloting on ‘is own account (reading the Bible in jail).
There’s nothing queerer than reality. Your one trouble will be to make your readers believe in your yarn.
Witnesses are an unreliable race. They’re like some cricket teams- all right on paper!
Read as an ARC from Netgalley
The Rochester Public Library has a copy.