Book Review: The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude

cornish coast murderNever, even in his most optimistic moments, had he visualised a scene of this nature—himself in one arm-chair, a police officer in another, and between them . . . a mystery.” So thinks the Reverend Dodd—vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen and a reader of detective novels—when an actual mystery unexpectedly lands on his doorstep in The Cornish Coast Murder. Julius Tregarthan, a secretive and ill-tempered magistrate, is found at his house in Boscawen, shot through the head—and the local police investigator is baffled by the complete absence of clues. Fortunately for the inspector, the Reverend Dodd is at hand, ready to put his lifetime of vicarious detecting experience to the test.

This newest instalment in the British Library Crime Classics series takes readers to Cornwall for a perfect example of the cosy mystery, sure to charm all fans of the genre.

From my TBR shelf, having picked it up from a charity shop. I became aware of this series of books – which have a lovely presentation, cover etc – after being given another in the series (The Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Parjeon) as a Christmas present. They are British Library Crime Classics, and this book can be brought from the British Library website.

In The Cornish Coast Murder, the story starts with the Vicar (The Reverend Dodd) and the local Doctor (Pendrill) sitting in front of the fire after their traditional Monday night dinner, and choosing who is going to get which books that have arrived that week.  Both men are fans of crime novels, something that unites them better than religion (with the Doctor refusing to attend Sunday Services). It is a stormy night outside, with heavy rain and thunder. Suddenly, the phone goes, and it is Ruth Tregarthan from the house next door – her uncle has been found in the sitting room, dead from a gunshot to the head!

Inspector Bigswell of the local force is assigned to the case, and is pressurised by his Superintendent to solve the case quickly before the need to call in Scotland Yard. There is an immediate suspect when Ruth’s close friend Robert Hardy (with whom she seems to have an “understanding”) disappears the night of the murder, after an argument with  Tregarthan. With the police close to making an arrest, new facts come to light which scuppers the whole motive, and here is where Todd’s “instinctual” detective work helps break the case.

This is rather a cosy detective novel, written in 1935, whose strengths seem to be in the “dot to dot” line of detective work, rather than the sparkling jumps around of Christie et al or the later procedurals of CSI and all the derivatives. There are some techniques that are surprising (to modern readers) in that they 1) exist and 2) aren’t standard procedure in the police force – e.g. the use of string and poles to determine where shots were fired from, which the vicar uses, but the inspector kicks himself for not doing as standard.

About the Author:

John Bude was a pseudonym used by Ernest Carpenter Elmore who was a British born writer. As well as writing he also worked as a stage producer and director. More notably for us though, he was a co-founder of the Crime Writers Association (CWA) in 1953. He was born 1901 and passed away 1957.

He wrote some 30 crime fiction novels, the vast majority of which featured his series character Superintendent Meredith. He also wrote 7 other scifi works under the name of Ernest Elmore.

Additional resources you may want to check out:

Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings has a review of this same book and others in the series

Martin Edwards made a special announcement late last year regarding this line of books.

Poisoned Pen Press writing on the series which are also available via Belgravia Books.

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