John Bude’s 1936 detective story, The Sussex Downs Murder, is one of two novels from the British Library Crime Classics series released in May in the United States by the Poisoned Pen Press. The cleverly plotted mystery is Bude’s second book featuring Superintendent Meredith, the personable, hard-working detective who had debuted in The Lake District Murder.
Now relocated from Cumberland to Sussex, he is called upon to investigate the disappearance of John Rother, who along with his brother, William, owns a family farm and lime business. John who is single lives with his brother and his wife Janet, although the brothers don’t get along very well, and there are rumors about John and Janet. When John’s car is discovered abandoned on a nearby country road with signs of mayhem, Meredith is the obvious choice to find out what happened. Then when human bones are turned up in lime from the brother’s kilns, murder is the most reasonable conclusion.
While Meredith does not have the charisma of a Sherlock Holmes or a Hercule Poirot, he is both good natured and detail oriented, a man who can be relied on to follow all leads with care. He is no romantic genius. He likes a good meal. He works easily with his underlings. He understands people, and although his patience is often tried, he manages to get whatever information he needs from them.
Bude is especially adept at the portrayal of local characters: the Rother’s garrulous housekeeper, a garage owner who claims to have a psychic eye, an anatomy professor more interested in bones than in murder. There are passages in which locals are treated like comic relief in the manner of Shakespeare. There are passages where they are gathered together to give a sense of the larger community’s feelings much like George Eliot does in Middlemarch.
The Sussex Downs Murder is filled with red herrings, and if the modern reader may be able to guess at the solution to the case a bit quicker that Superintendent Meredith, there is still a good deal of pleasure in following him from lead to lead, clue to clue as he works his way to that solution.
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