Meadside Brewery in the town of Medthorpe, Kent, was a thriving business, but its owner, Sir Henry Harcourt had grander ambitions than making money – he had his eye on nothing less than a seat in the Houses of Parliament. But there are machinations worthy of the inhabitants of those hallowed halls going on under his nose in the brewery itself.
Stanley Alton, one of the business managers is currently receiving threatening letters about his involvement in the death of a local girl some years past, but that hasn’t stopped him from making enemies in the business, from his fellow manager who he is determined to ease out of the company to the architect whose work he constantly takes credit for. So when Alton disappears, no one is particularly concerned – until his body turns up stuffed inside a hogshead (a big barrel, not the head of a big pig). Enter Chief Inspector Meredith…
It’s been a while since the British Library released a John Bude title, despite The Cornish Coast Mystery, The Sussex Downs Murder and The Lake District Murder being instrumental in the early success of the range. I’m not sure exactly why he hasn’t been seen since the two-for-one Death In White Pyjamas/Death Knows No Calendar, but when I spotted this for sale, especially as I’d heard good things about it, I figured why not give it a go?
In terms of the British Library Bude titles, I think this is closest to The Cheltenham Square Murder in style. Meredith shows up and basically eliminates one suspect at a time. He’s very much the sort of sleuth who guesses who did it, convinces themselves they are right, finds a seemingly insurmountable problem with that theory and then takes another guess. Repeat until he guesses right and can pull their alibi apart.
It’s a perfectly entertaining read while never troubling those Top 100 Mystery Novels Of All Time (But Mostly The Last Five Years) lists that have been cropping up recently. Readers of this blog will be astonished by the one I read the other day that indeed had this title (well, the unbracketed bit) and contained exactly one title from the pre-1945 Golden Age, the hardly surprising And Then There Were None. Oh, and it contained that well-known piece of Crime Fiction, Stephen King’s IT.
Sorry, where was I? Oh, this book. Yes, it’s fun, but I’d prefer to have seen a little more of the election shenanigans. There’s an emphasis to an extent on forensics here – quite a lot is made of some fingerprints on a whisky glass in the victim’s office – and it’s nice to see that these things, as they would back then, take a day or two to be processed and the sleuths have to wait until the work is done – ditto with the cause of death.
There’s some nice obfuscating of the time of death and a clever alibi being set-up, but points off for a motive that turns up almost as an afterthought in the final pages.
All in all, nothing that will set the world on fire, but a perfectly pleasant and enjoyable read. And even better, it contains this wonderful line which I will quote completely out of context because I am a massive child…
“[He] Sort of come round ahind me, as it were, and diddled me proper.”