Day 1109: The Sussex Downs Murder

Cover for The Sussex Downs MurderJohn Rother sets off from Chalklands Farm for a holiday, but later his car is discovered not far from home. There is evidence of a struggle, and his bloody cap is found next to the car. But has John been kidnapped, attacked? There is no way to know.

Superintendent Meredith can’t help suspecting that John’s brother, William, had something to do with John’s disappearance. The two brothers co-own the farm and a lime-burning concern on the property, and rumor has it that John was flirting with William’s wife, Janet. But Meredith can’t prove John has been harmed.

Then one of the Rothers’ lime customers reports finding a bone in the lime. The bone is found to be a human tibia. When Meredith’s men go through the lime shipped since the murder, they find more bones. Moreover, Janet was spotted taking a package out to the lime kilns.

From the minimal information they start with, the police begin to collect more, but it doesn’t make sense. A strange man is seen fleeing the area where John’s car was found. Was he an accomplice? A bogus message lured William out on the night of his disappearance. Still, it looks like William murdered his brother, and Meredith is about to arrest him when he is found dead, an apparent suicide.

This mystery is fairly complicated, but I had an inkling of what was going on almost from the beginning and never changed my mind. I turned out to be right. As with the other Bude mysteries, the emphasis is on the puzzle. The characters, except for Meredith, are cyphers.

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Day 1072: The Cornish Coast Murder

Cover for The Cornish Coast MurderI have to admit, I’ve been picking out these British Library Crime Classics by their beautiful covers. The last couple I’ve read have been based on vintage travel posters.

The Reverend Dodd is the vicar of the village of Boseawen. Each Monday he and Doctor Pendrill have dinner and exchange library books, mostly mysteries. But this evening is interrupted by a terrific storm off the coast. Then the doctor is summoned to the house of Julius Tregarthan.

When the doctor arrives, he sees there is nothing he can do. Tregarthan has been shot from outside the window. Reverend Dodd notices that there were three shots at different heights through three different windows.

When Inspector Bigswell arrives to investigate, he quickly surmises that the shots must have come from the cliff path. This idea makes things look bad for the victim’s niece, Ruth Tregarthan, who was one of only two people whose footprints were found on the path and who argued with her uncle that night. More suspiciously, her lover, Ronald Hardy, has gone missing.

This novel shares the Golden Age fascination with puzzles and doesn’t focus much on characterization. Unfortunately, I was about 100 pages ahead of Dodd on one of the biggest puzzles. I would also say that there is a cheat in the murderer’s identity, but I don’t want to say what it is.

So, not the best of the classic mysteries I’ve read recently, but certainly one for those who like puzzles.

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Day 1066: The Lake District Murder

Cover for The Lake District MurderIf 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.

Day 878: Death on the Riviera

Cover for Death on the RivieraDetective-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.

link to NetgalleyThe 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.

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