by John Bude and Poisoned Pen Press
The Sussex Downs Murder from Poisoned Pen Press, Kindle and tradeback editions released May 2015, list price $9.99 (USD) Kindle, $12.95 (USD) tradeback. Audible version, audio CD also available.
To fans of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude should bring as much satisfaction as a cottage pie or mac-and-cheese hot out of the oven. The writing is accomplished and smooth, while the plot and the puzzle are as filling as these comfort food favorites.
Bude, the penname of English theatrical director/producer Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901-1957), published 30 crime novels, beginning in 1935, as well as three humorous fantasy novels and a children’s book during his successful career as a full-time writer, but you’d have had better luck solving these mysteries than finding affordable copies to read. Until now. The British Library and Poisoned Pen Press are releasing some through the library’s Crime Classics series. Bude’s first two were released earlier. The third, The Sussex Downs Murder, originally published in 1936, was released in the U.S. by Poisoned Pen Press in May 2015. Click to see on Amazon.com.
The story begins slowly by modern standards, but Golden Age readers were more patient than today’s, giving an author space and time to set the scene, and Bude does this remarkably well. Bude provides a map – a staple of the crime fiction written between the world wars – but he also paints a vivid scene. The time and place come alive, from the “oval cap of gigantic beeches” that dominate the downs at Chanctonbury Ring to the long, low farmhouse at Chalklands, the home of John and William Rother, and William’s wife, Janet, and to its chalk cliffs and lime-burning kilns.
With the disappearance of John – and the appearance not long afterward of a “ ’ooman bone” in a load of lime – the mystery begins, and what a mystery it is! Superintendent William Meredith, who appears in most of Bude’s crime novels, is scarcely able to gather the clues of John’s disappearance before the discovery of another corpse. The plot twists and turns in just about every direction, with clues planted from the very first words and Meredith suspecting just about every character in turn.
Bude adheres to the standards of fair play adopted by the Golden Age writers, yet he constructs a puzzle that will test even the canniest of readers . . . not to mention Meredith. Ah, Meredith. He isn’t as well known to today’s readers as Hercule Poiret, Lord Peter Wimsey or Roderick Alleyn, but that’s their misfortune. Meredith is both believable and likeable, determined despite the mistakes he makes early in the case and the dead ends he seems to face as the weeks progress. And his determination pays off, as he ultimately leads the reader to a satisfying solution. Meredith doesn’t have a “Watson” – nor a “Bunter” or a “Lugg” – but, in The Sussex Downs Murder, he has Rother’s intimate friend and crime writer Aldous Barnet. Barnet is delighted to learn from a “real” detective and also serves as a device for helping us to see all the clues that Bude had hidden in plain sight.
All in all, the novel is a pleasant and enjoyable read and a necessary addition to the library of those readers who cherish the classic crime novels, especially those written in the 1930s and those written by British authors. For myself, I look forward to reading more.
Bude was a founding member of the Norfolk-based Crime Writers’ Association. His first two novels, The Lake District Murder and The Cornish Coast Murder, are currently available in paperback at many booksellers (list $15.00, but priced lower at online retailers) and for Kindle www.amazon.com ($6.99).
NOTE: Sis received an advanced reading copy from Poisoned Pen Press in exchange for an honest and independent review. The opinions are hers and hers alone. Feel free to share your own via a comment.