Death in White Pyjamas & Death Knows No Calendar by John Bude – Two classic novels in one reissue in the British Library Crime Classic series

Death in White Pyjamas and Death Knows No Calendar by John Bude

The British Library Crime Classics paperback reprints of classic crime novels are always good value; this is particularly true of this particular volume. John Bude, real name Ernest Carpenter Elmore, is apparently an author who has been rediscovered thanks to the British Library series. According to Martin Edwards extremely informative Introduction, these two books have been the most difficult to obtain copies of, and they are both extremely enjoyable in their own right and thoroughly deserving of a wider audience. Although they were both originally published during the Second Word War, they make no reference to the ongoing conflict and were obviously intended to “keep up the spirits of readers” during this hard time. They both provide enthralling mysteries which puzzled and distracted this reader with great flair and a flowing style; the second story in particular became truly difficult to put down. With diversions, red herrings and marvellous characters, these are both fascinating stories that I greatly enjoyed, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to read and review this engaging edition.

The first mystery, Death In White Pyjamas, was originally published in 1944 and at first reflects an idyllic world of a theatre company sponsored by a rich benefactor, Sam Richardson. Mainly set in the kind of country house much beloved of classic mystery writers, the grounds and select company of inhabitants provide a closed community and a set of logistical possibilities and suspects which define the eventual murder inquiry undertaken by Inspector Harting. Having plenty of money but no real knowledge of theatrical matters, the choice of plays and cast is largely placed by Sam in the hands of his producer Basil Barnes.

Sam choses the small but beautifully appointed Beaumont theatre in London for the actual productions, but the cast and others actually frequently assemble at the Old Knowle country estate for rest periods between productions and to begin rehearsals when a play is first launched. Basil elects to acquire a small cottage on the edge of the estate and with the help of Deirdre Lehaye, set designer, begins work on establishing its décor. Another person who helps is the female lead of several productions, Angela Walsh, whose youth and beauty soon attracts the attention of several men, including Basil and a young would -be playwright, Rudolph Millar, nephew of Clara who plays the older female parts in the company. The older male lead, Willy Farnham, a character actor with great ability and certain personal issues, make up the group usually to be found at the estate enjoying Sam’s hospitality.

Like any theatre company in mystery fiction, there are underlying jealousies, disturbances and ill feeling amid the group, and these are made more significant when a theft is discovered. The eventual discovery of a body on the estate means that a full investigation must take place, and there are many clever twists in the story. It is a novel of its time with characters who are well drawn and have fascinating interactions. I enjoyed the setting, helpfully illustrated in a map, of the country house and gardens with cottage which provide the background for the excellent characters. It is a well-constructed mystery which I found really engaging, and which I thoroughly recommend.  

Death Knows No Calendar

This novel is full of extremely well executed mystery standards. Originally published in 1942, it also keeps well away from War topics. It does feature a retired military man, Major Tom Boddy, whose hobby has long been the reading and commenting on fictional murder mysteries, so that he is well equipped to be an amateur sleuth, especially with the aid of his faithful batman, Syd Gammon. Boddy has not only acquired a lot of theories about investigation from his extensive reading, but also has a lot of local knowledge of the individuals involved. A mysterious death in a locked studio appears at first to be suicide, but for various reasons Boddy is not satisfied by the verdict, and begins investigating on his own with Syd. A local and rather flamboyant artist features, as well as her husband, a disappointed admirer and others who may not have wished the deceased well. Apart from a locked room mystery, several other particular puzzles must be solved, apart from the general questions of alibis and mysterious nocturnal activities. Each character, even the minor ones, are well drawn and distinctive. The settings, which range from a rural village to an unprepossessing area of London, are well established and described. The plot is satisfyingly complex, and when Boddy draws in the police, well managed.

This is an entertaining book which develops all the characters well, especially the two intrepid investigators who sadly did not feature in any other of Bude’s books, but show enormous determination as well as comic aspects as they pursue the truth and even romance. I really enjoyed puzzling out the leads and red herrings, and the characters with their very distinctive dialogue. I recommend this clever and fascinating book as possibly the better of the two offerings from Bude here, and am so pleased that they have been made available once more.    


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