Monday, November 8, 2021

The Cornish Coast Murder

Bude’s talent for detective fiction is now entertaining new readers

The British Library Crime Classics edition of The Cornish Coast Murders
The British Library Crime Classics
edition of The Cornish Coast Murders
The Cornish Coast Murder, in which the setting plays an important part and is very well described, was the first in a series of 30 detective novels by John Bude, whose real name was Ernest Carpenter Elmore.

Bude (Elmore) died on 8 November 1957, 64 years ago today, having celebrated his 56th birthday four days previously.

Fifty-seven years later, The Cornish Coast Murder, was reprinted by the British Library in their Crime Classics series.

In his introduction to the revived novel, which came out in 2014, author Martin Edwards writes that the original print run of the novel in 1935 was very small and there was no paperback edition. Skeffington, the original publisher, sold mainly to libraries, so a first edition of the novel would be extremely valuable, if such a book were still in existence. ‘This is partly due to the sheer scarcity of the novel, but also to the fact that in recent years Bude’s work has been increasingly admired, and correspondingly more sought after by collectors,’ Edwards says.

Bude’s writing style is relaxed and easy to read, and his characters and settings are perhaps more realistic than those of his contemporaries. This could be because he had already written three fantasy novels in his own name of Ernest Elmore, so The Cornish Coast Murder was not a debut novel.

When the novel was first published it was not nearly so common for writers to put their detective stories in recognisable settings that they described in detail and the fact that the crime scene takes place on the coast facing the Atlantic is important to the story. The sea and the cliffs are very well described throughout the novel.

The Cornish Coast Murder was originally published in 1935
The Cornish Coast Murder was
originally published in 1935
The detective work is done by a real policeman, Inspector Bigswell, who is dedicated and hard-working and not in the least bit bungling, and he is assisted by other officers. The local vicar, the Reverend Dodd, Vicar of St Michael’s-on-the Cliff, helps him to solve the crime by using his intuition and local knowledge.

The book begins with the Vicar and the local doctor, Dr Pendrill, relaxing after their weekly dinner and going through a box of books that has just been delivered to them. They are both avid readers of detective fiction and take it in turn to choose books that they will both read and then discuss.

The box contains an Edgar Wallace, the new J.S. Fletcher, a Farjeon, a Dorothy L. Sayers and a Freeman Wills Croft. Also, in the words of the Vicar: ‘And my old friend, my very dear old friend, Mrs Agatha Christie. New adventures of that illimitable chap, Poirot, I hope. I must congratulate you Pendrill, you’ve run the whole gamut of crime, mystery, thrills and detection in six volumes.’

When one of his parishioners is shot dead through the window of his sitting room, the Vicar is keen to be involved in the investigation.

At one point he sits with Inspector Bigswell discussing the crime and is thrilled that his theories are being considered by the detective. ‘Never, even in his most optimistic moments had he visualised a scene of this nature, himself in one arm chair, a police officer in another, and between them…a mystery.'

But when the Vicar and the Inspector finally track the culprit down and solve the mystery, the clergyman is saddened by the experience and tells his friend, the doctor, that he cannot stomach any more detective fiction at the moment.

Bude was a games master, before becoming a theatre stage manager. He used to write in his spare time, while waiting about in dressing rooms. He was also a founder member of the Norfolk-based British Crime Writers’ Association.

He died in Hastings, in Sussex.

The Cornish Coast Murder is available from or


Sunday, October 31, 2021

Short story collection honoured the creator of Inspector Ghote

Remembering crime writer H R F Keating on the 95th anniversary of his birth

The Verdict of Us All is a collection of stories by some of the top crime novelists
The Verdict of Us All is a collection of
stories by some of the top crime novelists
The prolific crime writer, critic and expert on detective fiction, H R F Keating, was honoured on his 80th birthday by fellow members of the Detection Club with an anthology of short stories, The Verdict of Us All.

H R F Keating, known as Harry to his friends and family, had been president of the prestigious Detection Club for 17 years and was regarded as a respected elder statesman of the genre, having written 65 books, the majority of them crime fiction.

The contributors to the anthology included the writers, Len Deighton, Reginald Hill, Colin Dexter, P D James, Simon Brett and Liza Cody, all leading lights of contemporary  crime fiction in the early part of this century.

Henry Reymond Fitzwalter (Harry) Keating had been born in the early part of the last century, on Halloween, (31 October) 1926, 95 years ago today, in St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex. He was to become legendary for writing a series of novels featuring Inspector Ghote of the Bombay CID, despite never having set foot in India when he wrote many of them.

He worked as a journalist for the Daily Telegraph and was also crime books reviewer for The Times for 15 years. His first novel, Death and the Visiting Firemen, was published in 1959 and his first Inspector Ghote mystery, The Perfect Murder, was published in 1966.

Keating was a chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association and the Society of Authors and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 1995, he was awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger by the CWA for outstanding services to crime literature.

Keating was much respected by his fellow writers
Keating was much respected
by his fellow writers
He wrote a biography of Agatha Christie -  Agatha Christie: First Lady of Crime and a book about Sherlock Holmes - Sherlock Holmes, the Man and his World.

His 1986 book, Writing Crime Fiction, was based on his analysis of the development of the genre from the 1920s to the 1980s.

Keating married the actor Sheila Mitchell and they had four children and nine grandchildren. It was Sheila who chose one of Keating’s many short stories to round off the anthology, The Verdict of Us All.

She introduces the short story, Arkady Nicolaivic, which was written by Keating in 1992. She writes: ‘It gives us a glimpse of a very young Ghote,  possibly at his most naïve and, as usual, beset by problems. To some who know him, Harry has an outgoing and relaxed personality, but to those who know him best there are many parallels between the writer and his character…’

To any Inspector Ghote fan who has not yet read this short story, the charming glimpse into the past of the detective will be a real treat. It tells the story of a young Ghote being sent on an official trip to Russia and, after falling for a pretty young Russian girl, delivering himself into the hands of the KGB.

The Verdict of Us All was published in 2006 by Allison Busby.

H R F Keating's books are available from or  


Friday, October 29, 2021

The many talents of C H B Kitchin

Barrister turned crime writer offered readers a snapshot of 1920s life

C H B Kitchin's skill as a writer was only one of many talents
C H B Kitchin, whose skill as a writer
was only one of many talents
Many people enjoy Golden Age crime stories because, along with a good mystery, they give the reader glimpses of what life was like in the early part of the last century.

Experts agree that one writer with a particular talent for evoking the era in which his stories were set is C H B Kitchin, a barrister who became wealthy from playing the stock market, and also tried his hand at detective fiction.

Born in October 1895, Clifford Henry Benn Kitchin was the son of a barrister who, after an Oxford education, became a barrister himself.

As well as being a gifted chess and bridge player and a pianist, Kitchin wrote poetry, general fiction and four highly-regarded crime novels featuring the stockbroker turned amateur sleuth, Malcolm Warren.

His first crime novel, Death of My Aunt, published in 1929, has been reprinted frequently and translated into several foreign languages. It was republished by Faber Finds in 2009, 80 years after its first appearance.

The novel introduces the young stockbroker, Malcolm Warren, who is summoned by telegram to visit his rich, old Aunt Catherine. She has recently shocked the family by marrying a muscular garage owner, who is many years her junior. She wants Warren to look at her investments and he is hopeful of being able to advise her on what to buy and to make a small profit for himself.

He hurries to her bedside, but before he can start discussing her investment book with her, his aunt asks him to pass her a new bottle of tonic that she wants to try. After taking a sip, she leans back and closes her eyes, but suddenly becomes violently ill and dies.

The Faber Finds edition of  Death of My Aunt
The Faber Finds edition of 
Death of My Aunt
Her fortune is divided up in her will to go to various members of her family, who would all be happy for either the young stockbroker, or the new husband, to be accused of her murder.

Therefore, Warren has to launch his own investigation in order to save himself, and his uncle by marriage, who he likes and can’t believe is guilty of the murder.

Kitchin makes his hero, Warren, a fan of detective fiction himself and he mentions that he admires the crime writers Edgar Wallace and Lynn Brock. Warren tries to emulate Lyn Brock’s methods and draws up a table of suspects and motives and allocates each of them points for being the most likely person to have committed the murder.

In a later book, Death of His Uncle, Kitchin, through his hero Warren, says: ‘A good detective story, I have found, is often a clearer mirror of ordinary life than many a novel written specially to portray it. Indeed, I think a test of its goodness is the pleasure you can derive from it even though you know who the murderer is. A historian of the future will probably turn, not to blue books or statistics, but to detective stories, if he wished to study the manners of his age.

In 2021 we can be those historians and enjoy the fascinating domestic details and descriptions of servants, houses, furniture and dinners, which Kitchin, through Warren,  reveals.

The writer H R F Keating writes in his Introduction to the 2009 edition of Death of My Aunt: ‘Kitchin’s knowledge of the crevices of human nature lifts his crime fiction out of the category of puzzledom and into the realm of the detective novel. He was, in short, ahead of his day.’

I would recommend Death of My Aunt to anyone who enjoys reading classic detective stories, as it is a well-written and interesting novel of its time, which provides a satisfying, credible solution to the mystery at the end.

Death of My Aunt is available from or


Friday, October 15, 2021

Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth

Who came first: Miss Silver or Miss Marple?

Grey Mask, originally published in 1928, was republished 90 years later
Grey Mask, originally published in 1928,
was republished 90 years later
Patricia Wentworth’s first Miss Silver Mystery, Grey Mask, published in 1928, introduces an unassuming little old lady, who is continually knitting baby garments, but is actually a shrewd private detective with a brilliant mind.

Many people have assumed over the years that Miss Silver was inspired by Agatha Christie’s much-loved Miss Marple, but actually it could have been the other way round. The first Miss Marple novel, The Murder at the Vicarage, was not published until 1930, although the endearing character had made her first appearance in a short story published in The Royal Magazine in December 1927.

Whoever came first, the two old ladies might appear to be similar characters, but there are many differences between them. Miss Marple lives in a cottage in a sleepy village but is more worldly wise than she might appear. She has developed  a deep knowledge of human nature and can always refer to a useful village parallel when investigating a case, possessing the ability to pick out a villain because he reminds her of a young man that she once knew who stole from his employer, or a naughty boy who often played tricks on his teachers.

Miss Silver, however, is the real deal, as she walks the mean streets of London and takes on cases in a professional way, pitting her wits against major crime bosses.

In Grey Mask there is little explanation about who Miss Silver is, or why she has set herself up as a private investigator in London in the 1920s, but she appears to be well known in upper class circles and the hero of the story is sent to consult her on the recommendation of a friend.

Charles Moray, an explorer, has returned home after four years abroad, to find  his house unlocked, with a light burning in one of its abandoned rooms. He finds somewhere to hide and eavesdrops on what is going on in the room. A criminal gang are using his house to plot a vicious crime. Furthermore, he recognises the voice of one of the conspirators. It belongs to the woman who jilted him on the eve of his wedding four years earlier.

Patricia Wentworth wrote 32 Miss Silver novels
Patricia Wentworth wrote
32 Miss Silver novels
He cannot go to the police because he does not want his former fiancée to get into trouble, but he has to find a way to prevent the gang from committing the crime they are planning and somehow extricate the woman he used to love from the mess she seems to be in.

His friend urges him to consult Miss Silver and so Charles goes to her office. His first impression of the well-respected private detective is that she is ‘a little person with no features, no complexion, and a great deal of tidy mouse-coloured hair done in a large bun at the back of her head’. He finds that appearances can be deceptive, however, and that Miss Silver is not afraid to tackle a criminal gang who are prepared to resort to violence, kidnapping and shooting people.

Patricia Wentworth was the pen name of Dora Amy Elles, who was born in India, where her father was stationed with the British Army, in 1877. She was sent to England to be educated, but returned to India and married George Dillon in 1906. He had three children from a previous marriage and they had one child together. After his death she moved back to England with the children.

In 1920 she married again, to George Turnbull, and settled in Surrey. She had begun writing while in India and in 1910 had won the Melrose Prize for her first published novel, A Marriage Under the Terror, which was set during the French Revolution.

Under the pen name of Patricia Wentworth, she wrote 32 crime novels featuring Miss Silver, beginning with Grey Mask in 1928 and ending with Girl in the Cellar in 1961, the year of her death. Miss Silver develops as a character during the series and works closely with Scotland Yard. The reader will eventually discover she is a retired governess with a passion for Tennyson as well as for knitting.

Patricia Wentworth also wrote poetry and more than 30 other novels throughout her career.

I would recommend reading Grey Mask, which was republished by Hodder and Stoughton in 2018 and is available again in some public libraries. It is a well-written story told from multi viewpoints and, although it is typical of the sensational crime fiction of its time, such as Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence novels and Margery Allingham’s Mr Campion books, it has an intriguing mystery at its heart, which is not revealed until the end.

Grey Mask is available from or




Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Baroness behind the Scarlet Pimpernel

Aristocrat also thought to have created the first female fictional detective

Baroness Orczy was from an  aristocratic family in Hungary
Baroness Orczy was from an 
aristocratic family in Hungary
British novelist and playwright Baroness Orczy, who is best known for creating the character of the Scarlet Pimpernel but also wrote several collections of detective short stories, was born on September 23, 1865 in Tarnaörs, a village in central Hungary, about 100km (62 miles) from the capital, Budapest.

Emma Magdolina Rozalia Maria Jozefa Borbala Orczy de Orci was the daughter of aristocratic parents, but when she was just three years old the family had to leave their estate because of fears of a peasant revolt. They came to live in London when Emma was 14, where she later attended art school.

There she met Henry George Montagu MacLean Barstow, the son of an English clergyman, who was an illustrator. They were married in 1894 and to supplement her husband’s low earnings, Emma started working as a translator and illustrator. After their only son was born, she wrote her first novel, which was not a success. She then wrote a series of detective stories for the Royal Magazine under the name Baroness Orczy and acquired a small following.

In 1903, she and her husband wrote a play based on one of her short stories about an English aristocrat, Sir Percy Blakeney, who in his guise as the Scarlet Pimpernel, rescues French aristocrats from the guillotine during the French Revolution. The play was accepted for production in the West End and ran for four years. It was translated and staged in other countries, generating huge success for Baroness Orczy’s subsequent novel featuring the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Baroness Orczy wrote several other plays, collections of shorts stories, and about 50 novels. Eventually she became so financially successful she and her husband were able to buy a villa in Monte Carlo.

Elvi Hale as Lady Molly in
The Woman in the Big Hat
One of her famous detective characters was Molly Robertson-Kirk, who first appeared in Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, a collection of short stories published in 1910 and probably the first book to feature a female detective as the main character. Lady Molly, like Miss Marple who was to come more than 20 years later, was a successful sleuth because she recognised domestic clues that were outside the experience of male detectives. The stories are narrated by Lady Molly’s female assistant, Mary Granard, who was perhaps the first female ‘Watson’.

I was delighted to come across a Lady Molly story from the 1910 collection recently in The Giant Book of Great Detective Stories edited by Herbert Van Thal.

In The Woman in the Big Hat, Lady Molly and her assistant, Mary, are having tea together in Lyons, when they notice a crowd of people forming outside the café on the opposite side of the road. Lady Molly is quick to join them and succeeds in gaining entrance to the café to view the cause of the commotion, which is the dead body of a customer. This is fortuitous as she soon receives a message saying Scotland Yard will require her assistance. She is told that there is a woman suspect in the case and they will ‘rely on her a great deal’.

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard is available as a paperback
Lady Molly of Scotland Yard
is available as a paperback
The police doctor says the man has been poisoned and Lady Molly questions one of the waitresses, who tells her the victim had been having tea with a woman in a big hat. Scotland Yard think they have discovered the identity of the woman and question her, but Lady Molly is present at the interview and passes a note to the chief officer telling him they have the wrong woman.

She neatly traps the person responsible for administering the poison in the café, with the help of two of the culprit’s own servants. Her faithful assistant, Mary, observes: ‘…my dear lady had been right from beginning to end.’ Lady Molly explains to Mary how she arrived at the truth, saying: ’Our fellows did not think of that because they are men.’

Lady Molly was the first in a long line of women in fiction who have been able to beat the police at their own job because they have noticed something very simple the male officers did not pick up on.

The Woman in the Big Hat was adapted for the anthology TV series, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes in 1971, with Elvi Hale starring as Lady Molly.

Lady Molly of Scotland Yard is now available from or


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

How it all started for the Queen of Crime

Remembering Agatha Christie’s writing roots on the anniversary of her birth

As a child, Agatha Christie
taught herself to read
Agatha Christie, who was to become the best-selling novelist of all time, was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller on 15 September 1890 in a district of Torquay in Devon.

Her arrival at the home of her parents, Ashfield, in Barton Road in Tor Mohun, took place 131 years ago today. Agatha became such a popular and successful novelist that even though we are now well into the 21st century, her books are still being purchased from shops and on line and are regularly borrowed from public libraries. New film and television adaptations of her wonderful stories are constantly being made and she remains the most translated individual author to this day.

Agatha was educated at home and even though her mother did not want her to learn to read until she was eight, Agatha had taught herself to read by the time she was five.

She enjoyed the children’s stories of her time by authors such as Edith Nesbit and Louisa M Alcott, but also read poetry and thrillers at a young age.

By the time she was 18 she was writing short stories herself and had learnt French from her governess, the family having spent time living in France. This was to come in useful when she invented her little Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. She also visited Cairo for three months with her mother, an experience she was to draw on later for some of her novels.

The latest edition of  Christie's 1920 debut novel
The latest edition of 
Christie's 1920 debut novel
It was during the First World War that she turned to writing detective stories while she was working in a hospital dispensary. She responded to a bet made with her sister Madge, who challenged her to try to write a good detective story, and she worked out the plot for her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, while working at Torbay Hospital. She had recently completed the examination of the Society of Apothecaries and was able to put her newly acquired knowledge of poisons to good use.

Agatha was unsuccessful to begin with and suffered six consecutive rejections from publishers. If she’d given up at that point the world would never have had the huge body of work that has entertained so many millions of people over the years.

The turning point came for Agatha when her novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was published in 1920, when she was 30 years of age, and she never looked back. She went on to write a total of 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. She also wrote the world’s longest running play, The Mousetrap, which was performed in London’s West End  from 1952 to 2020, when the theatre had to be closed down because of Covid 19 restrictions.

Her novel And Then There Were None is one of the top-selling books of all time, with approximately 100 million copies sold.

Agatha was co-president of the elite Detection Club  from 1958 to her death in 1976. In the 1971 New Year Honours she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

When her death was announced, two West End theatres, St Martin’s, where The Mousetrap was playing, and the Savoy, which was at the time staging Murder at the Vicarage, dimmed their outside lights in her honour.

Her novels have never gone out of print and are constantly being republished with new cover designs and in different formats.

The latest editions are available from or


Saturday, September 4, 2021

Tragedy at Law

Legal mystery written 80 years ago is still enthralling readers today

Tragedy at Law has been in print continuously since 1942
Tragedy at Law has been in
print continuously since 1942
Regarded by many as the best English detective story set in the legal world, Tragedy at Law, by Cyril Hare, has never been out of print since it was first published by Faber and Faber in 1942.

Cyril Hare was the pen name for Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark, a barrister and judge, who was born on this day in 1900 in Mickleham in Surrey. Tragedy at Law was his fourth and best-known novel, in which he was able to draw on his legal knowledge and his experiences while working as a judge’s marshal at the beginning of World War II.

It introduces Francis Pettigrew, a not very successful barrister, who manages to solve the baffling mystery because of his exceptional knowledge of the law. The character was to live on in four other novels written by Hare.

Providing readers with a fascinating glimpse into the life of a judge just before the war, Tragedy at Law follows Mr Justice Barber, a High Court judge, as he moves from town to town presiding in cases at the courts of assize on the southern England circuit.

Barber takes with him an entourage of wife, butler, cook, clerk and marshal, who reside with him at his ‘lodgings’ in each town. He receives anonymous threatening letters, unpleasant items in parcels and there are attempts made on his life as he travels from place to place, despite him being constantly guarded by the police, his wife and his marshal.

Hare took his pseudonym from the legal chambers where he practised
Hare took his pseudonym from the
legal chambers where he practised
The novel is beautifully written with plenty of details about the lifestyle of a judge of assize and Hare keeps the reader guessing about the solution to the mystery right to the last page.

The writer’s pseudonym was derived from a mixture of Hare Court, where he was in Chambers as a barrister in London, and Cyril Mansions, where he lived.

Hare also wrote many short stories  for the London Evening Standard and some radio and stage plays and he was a keen member of the Detection Club.

After the war the novelist was appointed a county court judge in Surrey. He died in 1958, when he was at the peak of his career as a judge and at the height of his powers as a master of the whodunnit.

In 1990, when the British Crime Writers’ Association published their list of The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time, they awarded the 85th place to Cyril Hare's Tragedy at Law.

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