The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude (1935)

The Vicar, who was fond of bodily comfort, sighed with the profoundest satisfaction. Behind him a big log fire crackled in the open hearth. A reading-lamp cast an orange circle over the seat of his favourite chair and gleamed, diluted, on the multicoloured book-backs which lined most of the room. In the centre of the hearth-rug, placed with exact precision between the two arm-chairs, was a small wooden crate.
The Vicar sighed again. All was exactly as it should be. Nothing out of place. All ambling along just as it had done for the last fifteen years. Peace, perfect peace.

When I read that the Reverend Dodd, Vicar of St. Michael’s-on-the-Cliff and his good friend Doctor Pendrill had dinner together at the Vicarage every Monday evening and that this little ceremony they’d followed for fifteen years included a discussion of the detective books they’d read during the previous week, I knew this book would be a winner.
Each week the two bachelors took turns choosing six books from the library which were sent up to the Vicarage on a Monday. As soon as dinner was finished, pipes and cigars were lit, and a division of the spoils was settled upon. This week was the Doctor’s turn to choose the six selections. The Vicar handed Pendrill three books, which would be swapped on the Thursday for the Vicar’s lot. On Saturday the six books were returned to the crate, sent back to the library and then it would be the Vicar’s turn to choose six books. The books were always crime novels and this week the Doctor’s picks included Dorothy L. Sayers, Freeman Wills-Croft and Agatha Christie.

Life in the isolated village of four-hundred was slow and nothing much ever happened.
The Doctor had just come from attending a woman who had delivered twins. Seven years ago, he had attended at the last twin birth in the village.

The Vicar smiled a little wistfully across the heap of nutshells which were accumulating on his plate.
“Still at it,” he said quietly. “Fifteen years of it and it’s all going on just the same. Births, marriages, deaths. Major events all of them. I suppose our more successful colleagues, Pendrill, would say we were wasting our lives in a backwater. Nothing ever happens here. Nothing! It all flows along at the same slow pace, though heaven forbid that I should ever see it changed! I love this spot, Pendrill. It’s my home – my spiritual home. I wouldn’t change my set of parishioners for any other in the whole of Cornwall.”

The Vicar was a very acute observer and seemed to have assimilated much from his detective novels, often annoying his parishioners by employing his methods of deduction as to their movements on certain days. He admired authors who wove complicated webs in their crime novels.

But heaven forbid that the shadow of any crime should ever fall across the grey-stoned cottages, the gorse-dotted commons and cliff-girdled seas of his beloved parish. He preferred to get his excitements second-hand and follow the abstruse machinations of purely imaginary criminals.

But that very night a man is murdered. The local inspector is completely baffled but he takes the Vicar into his confidence and it is his intuitive, imaginative reasoning and his deep understanding of human nature that unravels the tangle of conflicting evidence.

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.

There were two highlights for me in this book. Firstly, unlike the usual portrayals of Vicars which depicts them as well-meaning but absent minded and out of touch with the average person, the Reverent Dodd was an intelligent, practical, compassionate man who had served his parish faithfully for years and was respected by all. Aside from his detective skills, his excellent memory and his wisdom in dealing with people played a major part in solving the mystery. Intuitively he knew that the ‘obvious’ suspect did not commit the crime and it was his intervention that persuaded the Police Inspector not to make the evidence fit the crime.

Secondly, the Vicar and the Doctor were two very different characters and often ended up in ‘interminable metaphysical arguments;’ the Doctor, dour and scientific in his agnosticism; the Vicar ‘bubbling over with professional enthusiasm.’ For all their disagreement the two had a robust friendship. In fact, the Vicar explained to the Inspector:

“There’s just one person I’d like to take into my confidence over this – Doctor Pendrill. It’s not often I get the chance of astonishing him. It will give me a certain ascendancy, I feel, over his confirmed agnosticism. He’s inclined to poke fun at us clergy as impractical visionaries. I should like to disillusion him, Inspector. Who knows? A man’s first step along the road to salvation is often brought about by the absurdist and most irrelevant events!”

The Cornish Coast Murder was a very satisfying story and I especially appreciated this interplay between these two friends and the resilience of their friendship.

It’s not often I find secondhand copies of the British Library Crime Classics, so it was with great pleasure that I picked this one up for $3 the other week.

7 thoughts on “The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude (1935)

  1. I like the sound of this book and the characters. I am going to search for it, on Kindle or maybe second hand. Great find! Sorry I was missing tonight but I am on my own and Miss Iris was fighting bed time for ages.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: My Reading in 2022 | journey & destination

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