The decision by the British Library to reprint some Crime Classics from the Golden Age has been incredibly popular. They are beautifully presented and also bring back to readers the work of authors long forgotten.
John Bude was the pseudonym of Ernest Elmore (1901-1957) who as well as being a writer was a producer and director in the theatre. His work was popular and he often used various picturesque locations across the country. He was a co-founder of the Crime Writers’ Association and lived in Rye East Sussex along the south coast from where this plot is located.
Two brothers, John and William Rother, live together at Chalklands Farm on the beautiful South Downs. Their peaceful rural life is shattered when John Rother disappears and his abandoned car is found nearby. Has he been kidnapped? Or is his disappearance sinister – connected perhaps to his rather too friendly meetings with his brother’s wife?
Superintendent Meredith is called in to investigate and begins to suspect the worst when human bones are discovered on Chalklands farmland. He is a patient, careful detective as he slowly disentangles the clues that shift suspicion from one character to another.
Martin Edwards, who is an expert on writers from the Golden Age, gives an interesting introduction to the book comments that this book sees Bude making “…a conspicuous advance on his previous work, because of the range and quality of the ingredients.”
The dialogue is of its time and placed in the rural ‘doffing of caps” and at a time (sadly lost it seems) when the local constable in a village has the eyes and ears of the community assist in any crime. But the plot has been well thought out and keeps you interested especially in the intricacies of investigation when only finger prints seemed the high point of scientific proof.
I picked the book because I live in Sussex (although the plot takes place in the west of the county). A map is an integral aid to seeing where things happen and the area includes the mystical Chanctonbury Ring where magic and strange sights are renowned in folklore. With this in mind take a chance on this as one of the classics from the crime genre, of its time, but worth a read. It’s gentle but does offer murder that’s grisly and as such reveals the darker side of the human psyche which always intrigues. The conclusion may be a little disappointing and reveals the view perhaps of the time of how female suspects are treated.
Enjoyable on a chilly winter evening as a personal whodunnit read and I think book groups might like to pick a few of these classics amongst themselves to compare authors who now have a chance to be revived.
Philipa Coughlan 3/3
The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude
British Library Publishing 9780712357968 pbk Oct 2014