Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude: a British Library Crime Classic

John Bude is a favourite author in the British Library Crime Classics series, so I was pleased to see another book by this “likable author” as Martin Edwards refers to him in the introduction. This is a likable book: while perhaps not quite living up to my expectations, and while it features a fiendishly difficult alibi and Inspector Meridith solving all, it is more novel than murder mystery.  I enjoyed most of the characters and the setting of a ‘modern’ town, but felt that it did not quite work as well as other Bude books have in some respects.

The novel is set in the midst of a cult religion, “Cooism”, and possibly that is where I felt it lacked impact and focus. Edwards points out that several Golden Age authors set stories in cult settings; but I wondered if by the time this post war (1947) book is written the moment had passed and potential adherents were not so credulous. Certainly the Founding Prophet, Eustace K. Mildmann, does not seem to exude the personal magnetism which would gather many followers. I found his most prominent disciple, Mrs.Hagge-Smith, an interesting character with her financial contributions and personality exerting a powerful pressure on the organisation, but she seems to be forgotten as the novel progresses. Penpeti, who aspires to the leadership of the cult is a bit of a cartoon character with his distinctive clothing and unprincipled behaviour. Bude is obviously enjoying finding names that match his characters, as Penelope Parker is the young woman who seems less real than others. I liked Arkwright, chauffeur and general down to earth character who is frequently found in awkward circumstances. The first section of the novel is uncomfortable and seems a little aimless; it is only when murder most foul happens and Inspector Meredith appears that the book seems to slip into gear with an investigation as Bude complicates matters considerably. The ending is a little abrupt but mystery is solved so the purpose of the novel is fulfilled.

I found this novel a little difficult to become enthusiastic about as the characters seemed a little one dimensional and for a character driven mystery that was disappointing. Possibly it had missed its time for an old fashioned mystery and had not quite caught up with a post war world. It is undoubtedly a worthy addition to the series of crime classics and Bude’s writing is involving and interesting as always. The murder mystery plot is well constructed and delightfully puzzling, with some twists that make it seem impossible to solve, but reliable Inspector Meredith is never defeated and the reader is agreeably satisfied by the solution.

At the moment I have been collecting books for possible posts but not quite getting round to posting them! Thanks to the lovely Dean Street Press for some new Christopher Bush books I have discovered another Golden Age author to enjoy so watch this space if you are interested in such things. As always the number of books in exceeds the number of books read so the upcoming Big Book Sale in the next door Church Hall will probably bring on more qualms of conscience…Oh dear. Pity poor Northernvicar!

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