The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude

I read The Cornish Coast Murder a while ago for the U3A book group to which I belong, but it’s only now I’ve found time to fit in a review on Linda’s Book Bag. Had it not been for the group I’d never have picked up this book, but I’m delighted to share a review today.

The Cornish Coast Murder is part of the British Library Crime Classics collection and is available for purchase here.

The Cornish Coast Murder

The Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen, spends his evenings reading detective stories by the fireside – but heaven forbid that the shadow of any real crime should ever fall across his seaside parish. But the vicar’s peace is shattered one stormy night when Julius Tregarthan, a secretive and ill-tempered magistrate, is found at his house in Boscawen with a bullet through his head. The local police inspector is baffled by the complete absence of clues. Suspicion seems to fall on Tregarthan’s niece, Ruth – but surely that young woman lacks the motive to shoot her uncle dead in cold blood? Luckily for Inspector Bigswell, the Reverend Dodd is on hand, and ready to put his keen understanding of the criminal mind to the test.

This classic mystery novel of the golden age of British crime fiction is set against the vividly described backdrop of a fishing village on Cornwall’s Atlantic coast. It is now republished for the first time since the 1930s, with a new introduction by Martin Edwards.

My Review of The Cornish Coast Murder

Magistrate Julius Tregarthan has been murdered.

What a treat of a read! Originally published in 1935, The Cornish Coast Murder is a typical example of Golden Age crime writing in the style of Dorothy L Sayers or Agatha Christie and I really enjoyed it.

The pace is fast and filled with twists and turns as Inspector Bigswell finds red herrings, dead ends and half-truths at the heart of his investigation. Alongside him Reverend Dodd plays a significant part in solving the mystery with all the aplomb of Poirot or Miss Marple so that I found the scenes including him to be very entertaining.

And it’s a relatively gentle mystery with the murder very briefly described. Those used to the intense, visceral and explicit mutilations of some modern crime thrillers might find it tame but I preferred the unravelling of the plot rather than stomach churning descriptions. I found I wasn’t distracted by shocking detail, but was entertained by trying to navigate the story. I did guess the murderer early on, but I had no idea as to their true motive.

The characters here are quite two dimensional but nonetheless interesting, and concepts like shell-shock, romance and manipulation give them edge and attraction. One of the aspects of The Cornish Coast Murder that I so enjoyed was comparing how character was developed in the 1930’s to how it is constructed now. Indeed, reading this book made me wonder whether some readers would think it should be banned in the current socio-political climate as frequently there are prejudiced class comments and even the worthy Inspector Bigswell articulates some unpalatable opinions about women, believing the murderer to be female because they appeared to have been a poor shot. Add in the Reverend Dodd commenting that ‘Women are often unreasonable… Illogical too.’ and I fear many might feel uncomfortable. I didn’t. The book is of its time and I found the attitudes and approaches entertaining and often hilarious; sometimes because of John Bude’s deliberate writing and sometimes with almost 90 years of distance between initial publication and now.

The Cornish Coast Murder is well written, entertaining and a thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery. It is also a vivid insight into the social, political and gender hierarchy of the era that I found fascinating. It won’t suit all modern readers but I found it super escapism.

About John Bude

John Bude was a pseudonym used by Ernest Carpenter Elmore who was a British born writer.

After becoming a full-time writer, he wrote some 30 crime fiction novels, many featuring his two main series characters Superintendent Meredith and Inspector Sherwood. He began with The Cornish Coast Murder in 1935 and his final two crime novels, A Twist of the Rope and The Night the Fog Came Down were published posthumously in 1958.

He was a founder member of the Norfolk-based Crime Writers Association (CWA) in 1953 and was a co-organiser of the Crime Book Exhibition that was one of the CWA’s early publicity initiatives.

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