If I was thinking ahead, I would have read something for today that commemorated the Norman Invasion, but oh well . . .
The Lake District Murder is John Bude’s first mystery featuring Inspector Meredith. Golden Age mysteries seem to be divided between adventure novels and novels that focus on the puzzle. This one focuses on the puzzle.
A farmer stopping for gasoline finds the gas station owner, Clayton, an apparent suicide, with a mask over his face where he has funneled carbon monoxide from the engine of his car. But Meredith sees discrepancies at the scene. Why would the man have fixed himself a tea but not eaten it before committing suicide? And how could his hands be clean after he affixed the dirty hose?
Moreover, the victim was engaged to be married and had plans to emigrate to Canada with his bride. These plans are ones his partner in the garage, Higgins, claims not to know about.
Meredith’s investigation leads him to surmise that something illegal is going on involving the oil company and a chain of garages. As a result, the book focuses on this problem for most of the time, and it involves examinations of tank trucks, calculations of pumping speed and tank capacity, timetables, and lots of other details that are, frankly, boring.
When the solution comes, both to the illegal activity and the murder, it is so overly complicated that it’s hard to believe anyone would think of it. This is not one of the classic mysteries that I enjoyed. It focuses almost exclusively on the puzzle with little bother toward characterization or other literary elements.
Detective-Inspector Meredith and Sergeant Freddy Strang are on an unusual mission. They are following up clues that a British counterfeiter, “Chalky” Cobbett, is operating a counterfeiting ring on the Riviera. Since Meredith has encountered Chalky before, the French police hope the D. I. can help find and identify him. Meredith cautions Strang that they are working undercover, but not before they meet a tourist named Bill Dillon.
Nesta Hedderwick is a rich, middle-aged British woman with a villa in Menton who sometimes patronizes young, handsome men. Currently, she has two living with her in addition to her niece Dilys. Tony Shenton, in Dilys’ opinion, has been sponging off her aunt for far too long. He has no employment and orders the servants around as if they were his. His aunt has even given him a sports car. Even worse, he has invited a girl to stay, Kitty Linden, who is clearly infatuated with him.
Paul Latour is the other man. He keeps odd hours and spends most of his time in his room, painting. But when Dilys goes to an art show, she recognizes some of his work—with someone else’s name on it.
At the show Dilys meets Freddy Strang, who introduces himself as John Smith. Later, he is embarrassed when they run into Bill Dillon, who has come looking for Kitty, and Dilys finds out he is using a false name.
The murder mentioned in this novel doesn’t occur until fully halfway through the book. Instead, we follow the details of the investigation into the counterfeiting ring and Freddy’s romance with Dilys. This atmospheric novel is one of the more enjoyable of these Poisoned Pen class reprints. There isn’t a great deal of characterization, but in general that is common with these older mysteries.
The Singing Sands
Antidote to Venom