A farmer is on his way home one night, and runs out of gas. A garage (what we would later call service stations) is not too far up the road, so he hikes the short distance to find his petrol. Instead, he finds one of the garage owners in a car, dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. It looks to be a suicide, with one problem: the young garage owner had no reason to kill himself.
Enter Inspector Meredith of the county police force. Meredith doesn’t accept the idea of suicide. Only a very few clues suggest otherwise, but Meredith doggedly stays at it. And more clues pointing to murder begin to surface.
The Lake District Murder, written by Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901-1957) under the name of John Bude, was first published in 1935, the same year his first crime novel, The Cornish Coast Murder, was published (reviewed here on April 18). Both books were recently republished by the British Library.
The Cornish Coast Murder is a classic whodunit investigation, the kind widely popularized by Agatha Christie. The Lake District Murder is a very different kind of crime story. The focus is not so much on the identity of the murderer as it is the reconstruction of the crime and the process by which the police determine what actually happen.
And the murder is only the smallest part of the story. The author’s successful intention is to tell the story of painstaking analysis, investigation, footwork, wrong turns, new developments, tedium, hunches, and good fortune that is crime detection and investigation. The novel reads more like a contemporary account than a book published almost 80 years ago.
The story centers on the geography of area involved in the criminal investigation (England’s Lake District) and the geography of the mind of Inspector Meredith. The reader travels the roads and lanes and small towns of the area, and travels with Meredith as he pieces his investigation together.
Kudos to the British Library for republishing these entertaining and fascinating novels by John Bude.
Photograph of a landscape in England’s Lake District by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.