Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Lake District Murder – John Bude

The British Library is busy publishing a series of “forgotten classics”  of crime, and I must say they’re doing it rather nicely. The books are printed on good quality paper with a clear typeface, and the two John Bude’s recently released both have 1930’s travel posters on the cover. I’d never heard of John Bude, but Martin Edwards mentioned him on his blog. Apparently Bude was a co-founder of the Crime Writers’ Association, and wrote thirty crime novels before his death in 1957.

Bude has been compared to Freeman Wills Crofts, and this feels like a fair comparison. There’s a gradual and logical progression, with each new clue building on the last, until suddenly it all makes sense to the investigator – in this case Inspector Meredith, who finds a body at a lonely roadside garage where he has stopped to refuel. Bude gives a realistic-feeling depiction of small-town Cumbrian life (though I wish that petrol was still one and three per gallon) but I found it difficult to engage emotionally with any of the characters. As a result, the story never quite came to life for me. Perhaps it will appeal more to the masculine mind, with the detailed exploration of some of the clues. For long-term survival, crime fiction needs a strong protagonist, and Inspector Meredith, for all his skill, is too workaday a character to outlive his creator.

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The status of cozies

There is a large intersection between “country crime” and “cozy” crime  (even if the books are Golden Age mysteries, when serial killer/detailed forensic crime didn’t exist). In the US, this is a large enough group to support an entire convention, Malice Domestic, which recently announced the result of the 2013 Agatha Awards.
 
The convention looked a lot of fun, with plenty of pictures and anecdotes here and here. In the UK, there’s nothing quite so specific – on the contrary, people go out of the way to stress how realistic, gruesome and bloody the whole conference experience is likely to be. The long list for Harrogate is out, which is notably short on cosies (with country crime represented by Peters May and Robinson), and  Bristol is only a little better, in part because it has an award for comic crime. It’s beginning to look like an affection for the sub-genre is the love that dare not speak its name.
 
I think the reason for this is in part a serious fear of being bored. IThe non-aficionados must assume that in a cozy, the characters just sit round drinking tea until someone miraculously guesses who the murderer was. No narrative drive, no idiosyncratic voice, no more tension than the average knitting pattern. Until this week, I would have rebutted this view with force. Then I read an author who shall remain nameless, mainly because I’ve read their website and suspect I’d like them in person, who has written a number of books, often with “Murder” in the title. The one I read, no.8 in a series, had no dramatic chapter endings, no drive, and I had to force myself to keep reading – given my general voracious reading habit, this was quite something. It lived up to every fear anyone might ever have had about the cozy. It made me want to go away and read something with detailed autopsy descriptions. Suddenly I too have “The Fear”, that Fear of Being Bored. I’m going to search the Agatha listings for my next read, in the hope that The Fear can be vanquished.
 
On a separate note, it was interesting to see that mystery fiction is far less likely to be self-published than sci-fi, fantasy or romance fiction. Presumably because conventional publishers still think they can make a profit? I’ll be interested to see how the percentages shift over time.

Pagan Spring

Pagan Spring is the third of G.M. Malliet’s novels set in a fictional southern English county that reads like a cross between Hampshire and the Cotswolds. A new arrival to Nether Monkslip, the self-obsessed actor/ playwright Thaddeus Bottle, wastes no time in upsetting as many of the villagers as he can. Spoiler alert (as if you hadn’t guessed): he is promptly murdered, and the widow asks former MI5 man turned vicar, Max, to help.
 
He is busy pining for his pagan girlfriend, Awena, who for some reason has been exiled for the majority of this volume, presumably to allow him to get on with some detecting instead of moping around like a big girl’s blouse. Among the villagers, many of the suspects are attending the Writers’ Square, and there are plenty of jokes about the perils of the writing life. Malliet seems to be relaxing into her characters, allowing them free rein, and she’s clearly had some fun with them this time. It’s a light undemanding read, despite the sombre turn at the end.
 
(One ignoble thought – surely picking a title sequence with only four options (we’ve already had autumn and winter) was a little short-sighted? Even Sue Grafton probably thought she had wiggle room to spare by choosing letters of the alphabet, and yet now here we are, at W already…)