The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude – Review
By Sandra Callard
The British Library is once more reprinting the gloriously art deco books which were written mainly throughout the twenties and thirties, an era which has appropriated the handle of The Golden Age of Crime. This was a time when brilliant writers of the detective genre flourished, and laboured continually to supply the eager readers who were hooked on what came to be known as whodunnits. Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh were the doyens of the time, but a strong coterie of male writers were challenging them, and amongst them was John Bude, the author of The Cheltenham Square Murder, who held an authoritative sway until his death in 1957.
Bude always set his books amongst the wealthy and visually beautiful areas of England, and occasionally the continent, and The Cheltenham Square Murder fits nicely into this environ. Here we have two identical murders being committed in a quiet and select square in Cheltenham, whose residents are seemingly elite and wealthy people. The weapon of choice for the murders is the longbow, more famous as the fearsome slayer used by medieval England’s superb archers.
In the role of adversary and hounds of justice we have the suave and erudite Superintendent Meredith from Sussex County Constabulary, an incomer on holiday in the Square, who takes up the reins of justice, and local bobby Inspector Long, who is in no way offended that someone from another police force is heading the investigation.
Inspector Long is a superbly written character whose wry confidence is in no way subordinate to the more cerebral talents of Superintendent Meredith. They bounce off each other in an amusing and charming way, as each values the differing skills of the other.
“Needs full attention”
The square where the murders take place is a quintessential English place for wealthy people to reside, but is also enclosed and quite separate from their nearest neighbours. The suspects, therefore, are all residing in the Square, and Meredith and Long are led a merry dance before they eventually, as of course they must, find out ‘whodunnit’.
There is a wonderful drawing of the Square at the beginning of the book, with each residents’ house named, and little appendages such as Small landing window, Elm tree and The Empty House entered so we can tag along with Meredith and Long and understand the reasons for their suspicions and their conclusions.
The story starts off fairly simply but is a singularly tortuous case which needs the full attention of the reader. The drawing mentioned above is a particularly useful bit of work, and reference to the layouts of the houses are important to the solution. There are two kinds of whodunnit fans. One likes to read and let the story wash over him and be surprised at the denouement. Others like to play detective and see if they arrive at the same solution as the detectives do. Both approaches are valid, although The Cheltenham Square Murder’s detectives use a painstaking and scrupulous testing of the evidence, which results in many a backtracking and change of purpose, so prior information such as the drawing of the Square is especially useful.
This is a traditional detective/murder tale, told in beautiful prose, and with clear signposts for the amateur crime-buster. It is not modern but evokes a faded era which still holds vestiges of the crimes of today and is a true and superb classic of its genre.
‘The Cheltenham Square Murder’ by John Bude is published by the British Library, £8.99 paperback