A classic British mystery novel which seems tailor made for the oft-repeated reader’s cozy spot of a warm blanket and a cup of tea on a cold winter’s night. This was the first novel of prolific crime fiction writer Ernest Carpenter Elmore (pseudonym John Bude) and in its setting and theme reflects the tropes of the British crime novel of the early to mid-twentieth century. It’s a slow burning, warm concoction which readers can pleasantly dip themselves into without challenging their literary senses too much. That is in no way a dig at the novel; being easy to read and yet retaining a sense of integrity in prose is not an easy feat.
The Reverend Dodd is the vicar of the quiet Cornish village of Boscawen and spends his evenings reading crime fiction by his snug little fireplace and discussing these animatedly with his friend Dr. Pendrill every Thursday at their regular weekly dinner appointment. However, he knows he probably wouldn’t have a chance to put his own detecting skills, gleaned from these books, to any worthwhile use since his sleepy village was hardly a place for any gruesome crimes. While happy with this peace, he does wistfully wish for a little excitement on occasion. And that is when the proverbial penny drops. A murder not too far away from the vicarage. A dark and stormy night. Julius Tregarthan is found shot at his house and his niece, Ruth, is at her wits end. Soon, the constable Grouch and Inspector Bigswell are at the scene and lay out their plans for investigation. The vicar himself, though not actively involved in the initial part of the investigation does provide vital help to the Inspector and also takes in Ruth to stay at the vicarage while she recovers from the shock.
But is Ruth herself a suspect? What was the intensity of the ill feeling between her uncle and herself that they had a major argument the night of the murder itself? What about her intimate ‘friend’ Roland Hardy, a former war veteran still suffering from the effects of shell shock and prone to unreasonable fits of behavior? He very suspiciously disappears on the night of the murder and cannot be traced. And what of the housekeeper and her husband? Surely, it’s not a case of ‘the Butler did it!’? Inspector Bigswell finds himself at all kinds of loose ends and is desperate to prove that the local police can crack the crime without the help of ‘the experts’, as Scotland Yard is called. Meanwhile, the Reverend finally comes into his own in developing some interesting theories which can completely alter the course of the case.
The book has evoked comparisons to Agatha Christie’s more celebrated works, but since I’m not acquainted well enough with her writings, what struck me was that this reads like a grown up version of Enid Blyton with just that little bit of scandal added in to make it more suitable for adult readers. The beautiful setting of the atmosphere and the lovely cover art on the edition I read all add up to this. We have an inside look at police investigations happening in a simpler time where forensics and its ilk were not well developed. There are the suspects, the questions and the inquisition by a coroner. Inspector Bigswell is a genial enough man to have no issues in forgoing pride to work with the theories provided by the vicar and together they do get to the bottom of the crime in a reasonably satisfying conclusion.
It’s not up there with the best of crime fiction for sure, but what it does it does well. For the uninitiated this is a good window into some classic British writing of the early part of the last century and is not too taxing on the mind either. I quite recommend it.