I read about the British Library Crime Classics on Litlove’s site a couple of years ago. They are reprints of lesser-known crime fiction, put out by the Poisoned Pen Press, with titles like A Scream in Soho, Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm, and The Female Detective. What could be more appealing? So when I saw one on my library’s shelf — The Cornish Coast Murder, by John Bude — I grabbed it.
The book, written in 1935, opens in the tiny town of Boscawen, on (surprise!) the Cornish coast. The local doctor, Pendrill, and Vicar Dodds are settling in to their weekly ritual of dinner, whiskey, and — best of all — dividing a case of detective thrillers between them. This pleasant evening is interrupted, however, when the vicar receives a telephone call, informing him that the local magistrate, Julius Tregarthan, has been murdered.
I haven’t read a mystery quite like this in years. The local inspector, Bigswell, is competent and thorough, but baffled by the conflicting evidence. He gets help from the vicar, who, as a devotee of detective novels, believes in the “intuitive method,” which means he eliminates suspects based on his feelings that they couldn’t possibly have killed anyone and then works from there. The magistrate’s niece Ruth, a young veteran of the Great War, and one of Tregarthan’s servants are all suspects at one time or another.
This book came out the same year as Gaudy Night. Well, it’s no Gaudy Night — we don’t have the deep characters, the real relationships, the wrestling with problems of autonomy and love, and the consequences of detection. It’s not plotted as beautifully as an Agatha Christie novel, either, and some readers may feel they weren’t given enough information to solve it by themselves. But on the other hand, there are no horrific, gruesome murders, no grimly alcoholic and tormented inspector, no perversion, no betrayal. If you’re looking for light, entertaining reading, and a loving description of a real place (something you don’t often get during this time period), The Cornish Coast Murder is a fun way to pass a couple of hours. I might even look for others. A Scream in Soho sounds good, doesn’t it?