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.    

Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude: a British Library Crime Classic

Image result for death makes a prophet

John Bude is a favourite author in the British Library Crime Classics series, so I was pleased to see another book by this “likable author” as Martin Edwards refers to him in the introduction. This is a likable book: while perhaps not quite living up to my expectations, and while it features a fiendishly difficult alibi and Inspector Meridith solving all, it is more novel than murder mystery.  I enjoyed most of the characters and the setting of a ‘modern’ town, but felt that it did not quite work as well as other Bude books have in some respects.

The novel is set in the midst of a cult religion, “Cooism”, and possibly that is where I felt it lacked impact and focus. Edwards points out that several Golden Age authors set stories in cult settings; but I wondered if by the time this post war (1947) book is written the moment had passed and potential adherents were not so credulous. Certainly the Founding Prophet, Eustace K. Mildmann, does not seem to exude the personal magnetism which would gather many followers. I found his most prominent disciple, Mrs.Hagge-Smith, an interesting character with her financial contributions and personality exerting a powerful pressure on the organisation, but she seems to be forgotten as the novel progresses. Penpeti, who aspires to the leadership of the cult is a bit of a cartoon character with his distinctive clothing and unprincipled behaviour. Bude is obviously enjoying finding names that match his characters, as Penelope Parker is the young woman who seems less real than others. I liked Arkwright, chauffeur and general down to earth character who is frequently found in awkward circumstances. The first section of the novel is uncomfortable and seems a little aimless; it is only when murder most foul happens and Inspector Meredith appears that the book seems to slip into gear with an investigation as Bude complicates matters considerably. The ending is a little abrupt but mystery is solved so the purpose of the novel is fulfilled.

I found this novel a little difficult to become enthusiastic about as the characters seemed a little one dimensional and for a character driven mystery that was disappointing. Possibly it had missed its time for an old fashioned mystery and had not quite caught up with a post war world. It is undoubtedly a worthy addition to the series of crime classics and Bude’s writing is involving and interesting as always. The murder mystery plot is well constructed and delightfully puzzling, with some twists that make it seem impossible to solve, but reliable Inspector Meredith is never defeated and the reader is agreeably satisfied by the solution.

At the moment I have been collecting books for possible posts but not quite getting round to posting them! Thanks to the lovely Dean Street Press for some new Christopher Bush books I have discovered another Golden Age author to enjoy so watch this space if you are interested in such things. As always the number of books in exceeds the number of books read so the upcoming Big Book Sale in the next door Church Hall will probably bring on more qualms of conscience…Oh dear. Pity poor Northernvicar!

The Cheltenham Square Murder – John Bude


Guess where I went yesterday?

The British Library!

Now that we live in the Midlands rather than “Up North” going to London for the day is more of a practical proposition. Northernvicar had also spotted that the “Shakespeare in Ten Acts”

Exhibition was about to finish so if we were going to see it, we could get on a train at a civilised hour and manage a visit yesterday.  I like going to the British Library, as it’s next to the right railway stations, and even you have no reader pass as a researcher you can still see some interesting exhibitions.

This is a great one to see. In ten sections it looks at various aspects of Shakespeare and his plays, including some films of amazing productions. We really enjoyed it, and looking at two copies of the First Folio was a treat. They also had a piece about women playing male roles, including Maxine Peake’s Hamlet which is available on DVD…

Many of you know that I have been collecting and reading the British Library Crime Classic series, which is a selection of mainly Golden Age murder mysteries reprinted in a very readable format. The latest in the series is the Cheltenham Square Murder, by one of the favourites in this series, John Bude. I got a copy in Lincoln Waterstones, but the British Library in their shop and online, are selling copies for £5. It is worth getting!

For those who have read any of John Bude’s books, probably in this series, this is a worthy episode. He is good at place, and creating a limited number of suspects that makes it possible for the reader to develop her or his own theories about whodunit, and how…

This novel works well as the detective is a recurring character, whose personality does not get in the way of detection. Having said that Long, the actual policeman on site is irritating with his supposed accent. This is still a well plotted story of an unusual murder which can only have been  committed by a certain number of suspects in a confined area of Cheltenham. Actual bows and arrows are involved, as well as angles and checking up on some dubious characters. There are some wonderful creations here, notably a dog obsessed lady who scares off policemen, as well as stock characters that normally populate the villages of Christie and others. I had spotted a significant aspect of the murder before the story gets there, which is always satisfying. I enjoyed this mini saga of 1930s life. Bude writes

“Thus the inhabitants of Regency Square – diverse, yet as a community, typical; outwardly harmonious, yet privately at loggerheads; temperamentally and intellectually dissimilar, yet all of  them chiselling away at the same hard block of granite which, for want of a better word, we call life.

It’s nice to know that someone else could construct a sentence with even more clauses than I average!

This is a slow burning success of a novel, far from a thriller but a good read nevertheless. Worth seeing if you can track it down, especially at £5!

Poldark and the British Library Crime Classics

Greetings from the chilly (as opposed to frozen) North! Its been a long time, but as I go to my first Hexham Book Festival event tomorrow, I thought I may venture to my first blog post in nearly a year…

My only excuse for my silence is that we went on a sabbatical journey around Britain and now have a fridge full of magnets from the various places and railways we visited. I also bought a huge number of books and have been building a new library (and decorating the house to go around it).

Anyway, a few highlights from series of books, and things I have picked up on my travels – and remembered when re-shelving….

The British Library Crime Classics have been a spectacular shelf filler as well as a great series of books to read when travelling to some of the places mentioned. I particularly enjoyed The Cornish Coast Murder 

This is just a very, very well constructed murder mystery, with good characters, a great sense of place and a convincing murder. I do like the clerical character (as you would expect) who sounds like a great chap to have on your side. It is an ingenious plot, and I am not spoiling anything when I say that the victim is not much missed! I enjoyed reading about the coastal community in the context of the book, and of the several John Bude books in this series, this is undoubtedly the best in my opinion. The Sussex Down Murder is better than The Lake District Murder  as the latter is more technical.  I took longer to read both Death on the Cherwell and Murder Underground, which are by Mavis Doriel Hay, as I found the lack of a central detective /narrator a bit confusing and off putting., as well as finding them slower to get into.  The best selling Mystery in White is a jolly read for Christmas, with its near country house murder style, and I would recommend it if you are feeling in a snowy mood (so revisit later in the year…).

Apart from reading lots of books, of which more later, I have greatly enjoyed Wolf Hall which I believe I have commented  on in its novel form elsewhere on this blog. When we had it for Bookworms book club some people loved it, whereas others had given up in despair. The abridged version on cd read by Dan Stevens makes it a lot more accessible, and is an enjoyable listen in the car.

I ought really to mention my other current rereading project at the moment, the twelve volume Poldark series. I have read all twelve over the years, and remain firmly devoted to the original series with the lovely Robin and Angharad

Poldark, Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees

which benefited from more dialogue and some of the lesser characters (especially Judd) being built up a lot more. Yes,  I enjoy the lovely scenery of the current series, and Aiden/Ross is very attractive, but I miss all the comedy and pathos of the Judd, Prudie, and Captain Blamey type characters who enjoyed far more screen time and interest in the original series. The books are so readable, even when its for the second or third time, and the availability of the paperbacks should be and encouragement to pick them up. I have at least two copies of the first seven, and have so far resisted the temptation to indulge again, but who knows. If you are enjoying  the series, and not merely for the visuals, they are brilliant books!