Poisoned Pen follows its recent publication of Bude’s first novel (The Cornish Coast Murder) by reprinting his second, which was first published, like its predecessor, in 1935 and marks the debut of his doughty series detective, Inspector Meredith.
Meredith’s first impression is that Jack Clayton, who owned a garage outside the town of Keswick, committed suicide, ending his workday by gassing himself inside his car. But why would Clayton have put on his tea to boil just before ending his life or worn gloves to hook up the hose that carried the fatal carbon monoxide? No, it’s murder, as Meredith realizes in one of Bude’s many underwhelming sentences that end with an exclamation point anyway. Since the obvious suspect, Clayton’s business partner, Mark Higgins, proves an inconveniently convincing alibi, Meredith is forced to look further afield. Maj. Rickshaw, a chance witness who saw a lorry parked outside the garage shortly before Clayton’s death, sends the investigation in a new direction by raising the possibility that the employees of Nonock Petrol—and perhaps its chief, Mr. Ormsby-Wright—were engaged in an elaborate scheme to cheat their customers out of a substantial percentage of the fuel they’d bought and paid for. Readers who’ve been waiting to read minutely detailed conversations with a series of essentially faceless garagemen, drivers, and experts on the logistics of shortchanging wholesale petrol customers are in for a treat. Even the more jaundiced, waiting in vain for the scenic vistas Bude’s title seems to promise, may still wax nostalgic over the days when members of the English constabulary foreswore X-rated language and spoke in complete sentences en route to the arrest of suspects as unsurprising as they are forgettable.
Period reticence apart, the most notable impression this old-school procedural leaves is how remarkably little the formula has changed over the years.