The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude

Cornish CoastThe Reverend Dodd is an avid reader of detective fiction. Every week he and his friend, Dr Pendrill, exchange a parcel of mystery novels but he never expected his assumed powers of deduction to actually be put to the test. But when local magistrate Julian Tregarthan is found shot to death in his study – apparently from three different directions – and his daughter Ruth is under suspicion, the good vicar finds himself determined to prove her innocence.

Inspector Bigswell is assigned to the case, determined to sort things out before Scotland Yard are summoned. But all of his theories seem to have problems with them – nothing seems to fit the facts satisfactorily.  It’s only when he starts to listen to Reverend Dodd that things begin to resolve themselves. First published in 1935 and out of print since then, this is from the British Library Crime Classics range. But was it out of print for a reason?

Hmm… well, it’s not up there with Dame Agatha, that’s for certain. But let’s start with the good.

It’s very well written, with the Reverend Dodd in particular coming across as a very charming lead (although points off for all of the “if this was a mystery novel instead of being real” bits, a personal bugbear.) Bigswell is a little bland to be honest, but the book ticks along at a steady rate and it’s nice to have a detective who shares his thoughts with the reader – we solve it as he solves it. I’ve seen some people claim that it’s not a solvable mystery, but there is one clue – admittedly, only one clue – to the murderer but it’s more of an issue that the killer is… better not say, as it’ll be a spoiler. Put it this way, if you’re guessing, there’s a good reason why you won’t guess this one.

What bothers me more is the geometry of the murder. So the killer was standing on SPOILER but was close enough to see the window of the house – even throw gravel at it – and could shoot someone without any indication of the angle of the shot. And the SPOILER caused a massive variation in three quick shots… Sorry, it doesn’t work for me at all – doesn’t make the slightest sense. Having said that, all of these bits are revealed well before the denouement, so it doesn’t fall to the reader to work it out, but this one at least thought there was going to be more to this bit…

But if you put aside those problems, it’s rather a charming read and Well Worth A Look.

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22 comments

  1. I am very happy that the BL titles have done so well though I have not actually picked one up yet – this is clearly NOT the p;lace to start … love the cover though and it does sound like fun. Thanks.

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  2. I haven’t tried Bude yet–but I have the reprint of The Sussex Down Murder on the way. This one sounds pleasant if not in Christie’s league. But, then, not many are–especially when she was firing on all cylinders.

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  3. I liked this one and reviewed it last year on my blog. There are an awful lot of good stuff about this book not at all discussed in this brief review. For a debut mystery novel I thought it exceptional even with its minor faults. While I do agree that the end, especially the revelation of the surprise killer, are almost an anticlimax, certainly the telling and some of the plot details are engaging. There is an elaborate experiment Rev. Dodd does with string out in the fields trying to figure out the angle of the bullet that I thought was very inventive. I’d recommend it over any of the other Bude books BL reprinted.

    I couldn’t finish THE LAKE DISTRICT MURDER, Bude’s second mystery novel. It was all about a gasoline station and gas trucks and some kind of black market thing to do with petrol or oil. A huge bore to me. Plus too much nonsense with timetables like something out of a routine Crofts novel.

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    • Disappointing news about the follow ups – I was hoping the “bugs” would have been ironed out in the next book. Oh, and the bit with the string is clever, but it highlights the problems that I have with the geometry of the solution. Still can’t make it work in my head…

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  4. John Bude remained something of a back number his whole career, which, to be sure, lasted over two decades. I’d still say he’s one of the better authors reprinted by the BL so far, however. I have quite an affection for Farjeon, but he was, for the most part, a thriller author (with some exceptions). Of course the BL has now reprinted Crofts himself and is doing a good one by Christopher St. John Sprigg; so I think their recent successes will encourage the picking up of some good authors. Estates are now more anxious to conclude deals.

    Incidentally, I believe Cornish Coast Murder was their biggest success after Mystery in White.

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  5. I read some Bude back when I was working on Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery and I preferred Street, Connington and Crofts, in that order, not to mention some others who are still not back in print, but should be. I wasn’t able to find about half the Budes though. I will be reviewing the third Bude in the BL series soon. With general readers it’s been more popular than the second one. I am encouraged by it all, because if people like Bude, they should enjoy Street and the other “Humdrums.” Julian Symons certainly would have classified Bude as a Humdrum, had he bothered to mention him in Bloody Murder.

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  6. I have just started reading the book.
    In the introduction, Martin Edwards states “….the fact that the crime scene is on the coast proves central to the murder mystery.” (end of 5th paragraph).
    Is this a spoiler ?

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  7. I have read the book. I found it quite good and enjoyable. Remarkable for a debut novel.
    I have no problem with the solution. The house is on a higher level than the cliff path. The garden slopes down and at the bottom is the cliff path and beyond it is the sea.
    The experiment is sound. If the 3 lines of string converge, it would mean that the shots have been fired from the same position. Otherwise, they have been fired from different positions.
    The only doubt is whether the gravels could have travelled over the distance.

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    • (CONTINUING)
      Yes, it is perfectly possible. I experimented with a stone myself and found that I could throw a stone over the distance mentioned in the book. Of course, the aim has to be accurate !

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      • Did your experiments factor in the necessary verticality? This, coupled with the fact that the three rapid shots came from different directions implies (given the reason stated for the directions) still doesn’t work for me.

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      • Actually, the vertical distance of the window from the positions of firing is not mentioned in the book. Hence it is difficult to experiment accurately.

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  8. […] It’s very well written, with the Reverend Dodd in particular coming across as a very charming lead (although points off for all of the “if this was a mystery novel instead of being real” bits, a personal bugbear.) Bigswell is a little bland to be honest, but the book ticks along at a steady rate and it’s nice to have a detective who shares his thoughts with the reader – we solve it as he solves it. I’ve seen some people claim that it’s not a solvable mystery, but there is one clue – admittedly, only one clue – to the murderer but it’s more of an issue that the killer is… better not say, as it’ll be a spoiler. Put it this way, if you’re guessing, there’s a good reason why you won’t guess this one. (In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel). […]

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