The Lake District Murder by John Bude – Review
By Sandra Callard
The Lake District Murder is from the British Library’s excellent Golden Age of Crime reissue project, which gives new life to a range of books from the 1920s and 1930s, all written by superb authors whose names are largely forgotten to our modern world.
Written by John Bude, a pseudonym of Ernest Elmore, who wrote thirty crime novels, The Lake District Murder is an unusual crime story in many respects. The owner of a small garage in the Lake District is found dead in an apparently obvious case of suicide. Through some astute and clever detection Inspector Meredith proves it is murder, and even tracks down the guilty party very early on in the novel. Unfortunately the proof of guilt is hard to establish, so the greater crime of murder is temporarily shelved until, or rather if, the Inspector can unravel what he believes to be the motive, and pin it on to those he believes to be the murderers.
The motive is fairly easily determined, but the modus operandi is very definitely not, and the search for ‘how it was done’ occupies every subsequent page of the book. Meredith is an attractive and intelligent character, and the inner workings of the 1936 police force is surprisingly efficient. The police travel on bikes or in the unexplained and intriguing ‘combinations’, and go home for lunch each working day. They are extremely polite to each other, and the constables respect their superiors and obey orders with a wonderful assiduity that is rare in our more dubious and uncertain times.
“A shock to modernity”
Inspector Meredith forges ahead with an array of ideas and suppositions that are backed up by hard work, luck and help from an assortment of characters who actually seem to think it is their duty to help the police. Some rifle through the boss’s books to pass on information to the Inspector. Others keep a watch on suspicious characters and report back to the police, and even children are hauled off, alone, to help with enquiries. These actions are not meant to add a light-hearted touch to the story. This is seriously written, but is a shock to modernity to read that people did actually respect the police and were pleased to help them out, almost to the point of putting themselves in danger. This was written ‘in situ’ in 1936 and presumably the author researched police procedures, and the story is an accurate account of the police and general public.
The police themselves all pull together, from constable to Chief Constable, with little or no scientific or technical assistance, and the physical effort expended is huge. The only helpful thing recognisable from eighty years ago to the modern reader is the telephone.
Inspector Meredith’s quest for the truth behind the murder is inexhaustible and is quite often hard to follow. If you know nothing about alcohol production, petrol distribution, pipes, suction and underground engineering, you may, like me, become bogged down in the technicalities. However, the story is strangely believable and entertaining, let alone impeccably researched by the author, and turns out to be a really good, unconventional and informative read.
‘The Lake District Murder’ by John Bude is published by The British Library, £8.99 paperback