The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

I, said the sparrow, with my little bow and arrow…

🙂 🙂 🙂 😐

The people who live in Regency Square in Cheltenham form a little community set somewhat apart from the rest of the town. They all socialise with each other, and there are all the rivalries and grievances that grow up in any group over time. So when someone shoots Captain Cotton with an arrow to the head through the open window of a neighbour’s house, there are plenty of suspects, since many of the residents are members of the local archery club, and Captain Cotton had annoyed several of his neighbours in one way or another. Unfortunately for the murderer, Superintendent Meredith is visiting a friend in the square at the time, and the local police quickly enlist his help…

…which is a wonder really, since on the basis of this he’s not terribly good at his job! Mind you, he’s better than the local chap, who seems almost entirely clueless. Things were different back then, of course, as can be seen when the police pick up the body, carry it across the square, and leave it unattended on the captain’s own bed till the inquest. The thing is that there’s a major plot point which is so blindingly obvious that the biggest mystery in the book is that it doesn’t even occur to the police till the book is nearly over – I won’t specify for fear of spoilers, even though I defy anyone not to spot it. And it’s not the only easy to spot clue – easy for the reader, that is, but seemingly impenetrable to our dogged but hopeless detectives. On the other hand, Meredith seems amazingly, almost supernaturally, perceptive when it comes to less important clues, making astounding leaps of intuition to arrive at the truth. The powers-that-be keep threatening to hand the whole thing over to the Yard, and I really felt they should do this pronto – intriguingly Meredith’s own superiors seemed willing to leave him seconded to the Cheltenham force for as long as possible necessary. One could see why…

However, there’s still a lot to like in the book. The characterisations of the various residents of the square are well done, even if they tend to be a little stereotyped. This is a typically upper middle class square, full of bankers and retired army officers and elderly spinsters. Some of the people are just what they seem, but some have secrets hidden behind their respectable façades which are gradually revealed as the book progresses. Bude creates the setting well and some of the secrets give it a slightly darker tone than it feels as if it’s going to have at first. And there’s lots of humour in it too, sometimes a bit clunky like when the local Inspector uses his young subordinate as the butt of his stupidity jokes (ironic, given the profundity of his own intellectual lapses!), but at other times light and fun, like the two elderly sisters and their dismay at not really knowing the correct etiquette for dealing with a murder investigation. The detectives get there in the end, of course, but more by luck than anything else.

Not one of the better of these British Library Crime Classics, in truth. I found it dragged quite a bit, mainly because it took the police so long to realise things that had been obvious for chapters. The quality of the writing and characterisation lifted it, but the whole detection aspect lacked any feeling of authenticity for me, and the murder method, while quite fun, struck me as overly contrived. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the other John Bude I’ve read, Death on the Riviera, but it was still a reasonably enjoyable read overall. So a fairly half-hearted recommendation for this one, I’m afraid.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.

Can’t find an author pic, so you’ll just have to make do with this instead…

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47 thoughts on “The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

    • No wonder there were so many murders back in the Golden Age – people must have known it’d be pure luck if the police managed to catch them! Ha! I do enjoy even the less good of these BL books – it’s fun to see how the genre has developed over time… 🙂

    • Haha! I know – I was shouting at them for half the book about the clues they kept missing! 😉 But I do enjoy these old crime novels anyway – they’re not as grim as a lot of today’s crime fiction… 🙂

  1. As always, I enjoyed your review but I don’t think I’d enjoy be smarting than the police:) I want to be steps behind them and then be proven wrong on top of it all when I’m reading mysteries…not too much to ask I think:)

    • My feelings exactly! I spent half this one shouting at them about the clues they were missing… 😉 But I still enjoy these old crime novels even if only to see how the genre has developed – and to remind me of how good Agatha Christie was!

  2. I know just what you mean, FictionFan, about the police. I’ve read books like that. Still, the community does sound like an interesting place for a murder. And an archery club….not a bad context. And if it gave you the opportunity to post a ‘photo of Legolas, well, why not? 😉

    • It’s odd, because Meredith seemed quite smart in Death on the Riviera – maybe he had secretly taken to drink in the hopes of becoming the first dysfunctional, angst-ridden detective. 😉 But I still always enjoy these old crime novels even if only to remind me of how good the good ones were…

      • You know, you’re inspiring me, FictionFan, to look into whether you’re right, and Meredith was the first dyfunctional, demon-haunted sleuth. 😉 – And you’re right; some of the good ol’ books really were good.

        • Haha! Poor man! He might sue me for libel now… 😉 But it would be fun to know just who was the first one – I think Rebus was the first I was aware of, though he seems eminently well-balanced and functional in comparison to a lot of the current crop!

  3. Always nice to see Orlando Bloom as Legolas! I can’t help thinking of “Greenshaw’s Folly” by Agatha Christie, in which a bow and arrow are used.

    This book does sound like a fun way to spend an afternoon.

    • Ah yes – Legolas always gets overshadowed by Aragorn, but he fully deserves his place in my hunks’ gallery! 😉 Ooh, I don’t remember reading Greenshaw’s Folly – must look out for that one!

    • I must admit I always enjoy these British Library Crime Classics – even the less good ones are usually fun, and they’re so much lighter than a lot of today’s grim misery in crime fiction… 🙂

    • I know the first paragraph had me (guiltily) giggling. The idea of shooting someone through the head with an arrow through an open window is quite comic in my mind. Then again, it’s not like I see a lot of arrow violence on TV or in movies, so it’s become archaic in my imagination.

      • Ha! Some of the murder methods in these old Golden Age crime novels are quite fun. I think that’s part of the appeal – more mysterious South African poison darts and less guns, I say!

        • I don’t know if you like Edgar Wright films, but I love Hot Fuzz, and I fall into a fit of giggles when the police are trying to argue a bunch of people were not murdered, the are just lots of accidents. They give the example of a village resident falling on his own pitchfork 😂😂

  4. Well, Legolas isn’t Raffa, but he makes a doggone fine addition to your review here, FF!! This doesn’t sound like something I need to add to my TBR, but I’m glad you rather enjoyed it — minus the obvious pitfalls, of course. Now, go enjoy your weekend!!

  5. I rather enjoyed this little mystery as a light wind-down read in between a couple of weightier books. One of the things I liked about it was the setting – all the residents holed up in the semi-closed square, watching each other coming and going etc. It’s a neat set-up.

    • Yes, I liked the closed community idea too. Even though I was critical of this one in terms of plotting, I still always enjoy them as a break from other heavier stuff – and I do find them rather addictive! I hope they keeo them coming… 🙂

  6. Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this crime classic as much as the previous…however I am enjoying the Legolas pic. In fact, I would be happy if you conveniently couldn’t find any author pics ever again if this is what I can expect instead 😛

  7. Well, this made me smile all the way through: fun review, fun comments, and a piccie to drool over. What more can I ask! I did get the sense that you rather enjoyed this one really – who doesn’t like shouting at the book/telly when it’s all so very obvious! 😀

    (A small plea for Aragorn next? I do love Legolas – but he’s overshadowed for a reason… :-o)

      • I am SO glad you gave me that link – from before I had discovered the wonders of your blog. Had you not pointed me there I would have been forced to go through your past week’s posts, searching for Aragorn. Instead I spent the time studying this post from the past VERY closely indeed …. Boromir…. Faramir…. Legolas…. AND Aragorn…. Oh, I feel so much better now! What a way to start the week 😀 😀 😀

    • I’ve only read one other, Death on the Riviera, and I enjoyed it, so I certainly wouldn’t score him off my list! Even though I thought the plotting in this one left a little to be desired (well, a lot, really) I still always enjoy these as a break from all the grim current stuff… 🙂

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