I’ve been reading my way through some of the wonderful murder mysteries and crimes novels from the Golden Age of this genre, now re-issued by British Library Crime Classics. Among them is the once very popular, now almost forgotten writer John Bude, who wrote some 30 best-selling crime novels in his day which are now all but collectors’ items.
Having just finished “The Lake District Murder”, which is rather different from his other two novels published in this British Library series, I am once again reminded what a huge difference it makes when a writer knows their “turf”, or locality, and doesn’t just work from a map and tourist guide book.
Set in the Lake District in the north of England, the novel is less of a whodunit and more of a how-did-they-do-it. In it, Inspector Meredith must break some pretty solid alibies and solve the murder of a garage co-owner, whose death was dressed up as suicide.
As Martin Edwards says in his introduction to this entertaining novel, John Bude “not only knew but clearly loved his Lake District”. And that makes all the difference, for he knows not just the geographical, but also the social landscape of this part of Britain, allowing his readers a glimpse into what life was like at that time in this desolate but beautiful region. There is the middle-aged woman who cooks and cleans, mends and washes in the household of two men for just ten shillings a week; there are the two garage owners who scratch a living for just £16 profit a month, shared between the two of them – which means that each of them had just about a couple of quid to spend per week in 1935, when this novel was first published. There are numerous hotels and pubs that make an excellent living in spring and summer, when masses of tourists arrive, but whose proprietors must fall back on local custom during the rest of the year. Times are hard in rural surroundings like these, and we are reminded of this at every turn but in an understated, subtle way.
What is also interesting is that John Bude, in an era when the amateur sleuth was all the rage among writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, chose to make the policeman Inspector Meredith the central figure of his novel and the painstaking efforts of the police to make the crime stick to the villains so they could be rightfully convicted. No dashing Lord Peter Wimsey here or little old Miss Marple. This feels very much like a real detective at work, doing boring stake-outs hiding behind hedgerows or sifting through endless paperwork.
The other central character, if you like, is the Lake District itself, its peculiar geographical quirks as much part of the investigation as the villains themselves. Loving – or detesting – the location a writer uses as background makes all the difference. Even if you create a whole new world for your fantasy novel, you need to feel passionately about the location in one way or another, or you might as well set the whole thing in a void…or a Tesco supermarket isle. Be as passionate about the location as you are about the characters you drop into these fictional landscapes. Your readers will follow their every footstep, so you need to be the world’s best tourist guide!
I didn’t adhere to this rule too strictly in the first outing for Linus Brown, when he meets the leprechauns in his new Lincolnshire environment for the first time, but location will play a big, big part when Linus and the leprechaun colony set out to visit Ireland and Castle Blarney in the second outing for my 9-year-old protagonist. Thankfully, I have been to Ireland, albeit not to the castle, but having visited a lot of castles in my day, I can “wing” that part of it, I’m hoping. The Castle has its own website, fortunately with lots of history and some pictures…research, even for a children’s novel, is vital.
Finally, at the end of week two of my second promotion for Linus’s first novel, my Copromote adventure bagged me of their Twitter networks. A round of applause to all of them and a big, fat thank you. followersCoPromoters who retweeted my original Tweet with the sales link to Scribd(dot)com to