Two long-forgotten classic cozy mysteries will get a new look and a new readership on April 15, thanks to the British Library Crime Classics—which highlights gems from the Golden Age of British crime fiction—and the University of Chicago Press. Readers can discover (or rediscover) John Bude's debut, The Cornish Coast Murder, and his follow-up, The Lake District Murder, both originally published in 1935 by a small press called Skeffington & Son.
"John Bude" is the pseudonym for Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901-1957), co-founder of the Crime Writers' Association, but don't be surprised if you don't know his name. None of Bude's 30 books (except his very last) were ever published in the U.S., despite their popularity in the U.K. And all of his books are very rare, as Skeffington sold mainly to libraries.
The Cornish Coast Murder's unconventional hero is the Reverend Dodd, vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen. He loves mystery novels and "bodily comfort," like crackling logs on the fire and his favorite chair. When a local magistrate is found dead, Dodd jumps in to help solve the murder.
Bude's descriptions of the charming setting, a fishing village on Cornwall’s south coast, are especially lovely. Plus it's nearly impossible to resist a book whose first chapter is titled "Murder!" It practically comes with its own glass of port.
The introduction to The Cornish Coast Murder provides some fascinating history on British mysteries and publishing in the 1930s:
"At the time The Cornish Coast Murder appeared, detective novels with a recognisable and well-evoked rural background were less common than they are today. Perhaps anxious to avoid unintentional libel, authors who wrote rural mysteries often resorted to setting their stories in 'Midshire' or 'Wessex,' a habit that persisted until after the Second World War. Bude was ahead of his time in realising that detective fans would enoy mysteries with attractive real-life settings other than London."
For his second novel, The Lake District Murder, Bude gives readers a new investigator and a new setting, but his descriptions of the Lake District are just as vivid and finely crafted. When a faceless body is found in a garage, it's up to Inspector Meredith (a man) to figure out where the clues lead, and the result is a meticulous and lively police procedural.
Less literary than Dorothy Sayers and less complex than Agatha Christie, Bude is nevertheless a delight. It's light, entertaining crime fiction, and fans of the genre will love discovering this unknown treasure.
Do you love cozy mysteries? Will you check out John Bude's cozies on April 15?