Death In White Pyjamas (1944) by John Bude

Sam Richardson is a theatrical entrepreneur who has gathered his troupe of actors and creatives to the Old Knolle estate to plan the next season of entertainments. But as ever with theatrical types, things are not running smoothly. Both the writer and the director are in love with the same woman, the old theatrical legend has both a drinking and gambling problem and the set designer is stirring the pot, basically to see what happens.

When things come to a head, one member of the troupe lies dead in the water, clad in white pyjamas. While members of the troupe continue to scheme, it falls to Inspector Harting to bring down the curtain on the murderer.

John Bude is one of the most popular writers in the British Library Crime Classics range and certainly the writer of one of my favourite entries in the series, Death Makes A Prophet. I’m not entirely sure why this release has two titles bundled together – both this and Death Knows No Calendar are full-length novels – but let’s not complain about it. This is a very entertaining novel by itself and well worth the admission price.

I’m not going to name the murder victim here – although Martin Edwards does in his introduction – as the crime takes place more than halfway through the book, so I’d call it a spoiler, especially as there is definitely more than one candidate for being murdered. The central cast are a lively bunch – there’s a bit of typical Golden Age romance (i.e. unbelievable) going on, for example, but also a dab of theft and blackmail.

A little like Ngaio Marsh (although not as much), things fall off a little when the police arrive. Pre-murder, the focus shifts from character to character as tensions rise, but once Inspector Harting arrives, we get a near-exclusive look at things from his point of view. He’s more entertaining company than Handsome Alleyn and Bude’s writing keeps the story moving. Unfortunately, the choice of murderer isn’t desperately interesting and there’s some weird mechanics in the actual crime that don’t really fit with the rest of the book. Regardless, this is an entertaining read, and I’m looking forward to taking a look at the other half of this release.

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