Belsize Park, British Library, Christmas, College bursars, Cornish coast, J Jefferson Farjeon, John Bude, John Rowland, Kent, London Underground, Mavis Doriel Hay, Oxford, River Cherwell, Sussex Downs, whodunits
Another hurrah for the British Library Crime Classics series! It reissues whodunits from the Golden Age by authors who have dropped from general sight but who still can give much pleasure.
I found Mystery in White – A Christmas Crime Story, by J Jefferson Farjeon (1937), a most atmospheric piece. A group of strangers are trapped by heavy snow on Christmas Eve in a country house, which mysteriously has fires burning and food ready, but no-one is home … Then murder is done. I could almost feel the cold, see the snow on the ground outside. A great gift for Christmas for an aficionado of the genre.
The Sussex Downs Murder (1936) is set north of Worthing, in real Sussex countryside, based on the village of Washington near Chanctonbury Ring. Written by John Bude. The Rother brothers run a quarry. Soon after John Rother’s disappearance bones turn up in the quarry, and then in loads of lime sent to local customers. The plot includes delights such as a mysterious runner in a broad-brimmed hat, an anomaly in the amount of petrol in an abandoned car, a false telegram sent to lure one of the protagonists away, etc. Superintendent Meredith is the sleuth on the case.
Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay (1935) is in the sub-genre of Oxbridge murders. A group of students at the all-female Persephone College in Oxford meet one wintry afternoon on top of the boathouse to form a secret society dedicated to the cursing of the unpopular College bursar: and what should float down the River Cherwell, right past their meeting place, but a canoe containing the said bursar’s corpse …. Here the traditional detective sent from Scotland Yard is Inspector Braydon. The cast of suspects includes exotic types such as Draga Czernak, a Montenegrin student at Persephone who feels insulted by the bursar; Ezekiel Lond, a misogynist old man who lives in a ramshackle house next to Persephone, and who much resents the sale by his father of the land on which the College stands; and James Lidgett, a farmer-cum-builder who wishes to develop land next to Persephone. Great stuff. For once, I guessed the villain early on.
Those are the three in the series I’ve read so far. Three pleasures still to come are:
Calamity in Kent (1950), by John Rowland, in which a corpse is found locked inside the carriage of a cliff railway at the seaside resort of Broadgate – given me by a ninevoices friend who knew of my liking for this stuff (thanks, Val).
Murder Underground (1934), by Mavis Doriel Hay (she of the Cherwell): the rich but unpopular Miss Pongleton is killed on the stairs of Belsize Park tube station. I’ve given this to my Londoner daughter as a present. She commutes to work on the Metropolitan Line but as Belsize Park is on the Northern Line she might not hold it against me. I hope she’ll lend it back to me to read in due course.
The Cornish Coast Murder (1935), by John Bude (he of the Sussex Downs): a local magistrate is found shot dead in the house of the local vicar (not in his library, surely?). Looking for something else, I found this in a place my dear wife might be using for storing this year’s Christmas presents, so I have high hopes for Christmas morning! I must put it back secretly.
Thanks, BL. Go to http://www.bl.uk/aboutus/publishing/crime-classics-booklet.pdf for the complete list.