John Rother and his brother William own a farm and lime-producing operation in rural Sussex, not far from the Channel coast and Brighton. John leaves one weekend for a short trip, leaving his brother and sister-in-law in charge. John’s car is found, with a smashed dashboard and blood on the seat and John’s bloody cap nearby. But there’s no trave of John or his body.
Superintendent Meredith is called to investigate the disappearance and likely death. From the beginning, it’s a frustrating investigation, with little to go on except a few clues and the oddity of less fuel in the car’s gas tank than there should be. A local shepherd also reports a mysterious man in a cloak and cap being seen walking across the fields about the time of the disappearance. Meredith dutifully keeps plodding away. And then part of a human hip bone is found at a local building project, buried in a load of lime. The lime is traced to the Rother operation.
And then John’s brother William is found dead, an apparent suicide with a note in his pocket. But Meredith isn’t satisfied. Something is clearly wrong.
The Sussex Downs Murder was originally published in 1936 and has been republished as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. It was written by John Bude, the penname for Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901-1957).
Elmore was a theater producer and director in Britain who wrote 30 crime novels under the John Bude penname. Most of the John Bude novels involved Superintendent Meredith as the detective. He also wrote fantasy and children’s stories.
The hallmark of this mystery novel is not a brilliant detective. Instead, it is the detective’s understanding what happened, finding clues, formulating a theory, discarding the theory when new clues are discovered, or events force a change, and keep relentlessly at it. To his credit, Meredith keeps an open mind (most of the time), and gains clues and insights from farmers, shepherds, shopkeepers, and even his own teenaged son.
The solution to the mystery becomes somewhat obvious about halfway through The Sussex Downs Murder, but that doesn’t detract from the pleasure of watching a puzzle assembled and the mystery solved.
Photograph of Sussex hills by Rucksack Magazine via Unsplash. Used with permission.