by John Bude
As part of the British Library Crime Classics series, The Sussex Downs Murder is an authentic and enjoyable example of pre-war crime writing. It is very much of its time in style and attitudes. The characters are stereotypical of their type and place in the social pecking order. Superintendent Meredith and his colleagues are first led by assumptions, but as the tale unfolds, it becomes clear that not everyone connected with the case is what they seem.
Meredith is called in to investigate when local businessman and landowner John Rother goes missing. His car is found abandoned just a few minutes from his home when he should have been miles away on holiday. There are signs of a struggle but no sign of the man himself. The police’s initial thoughts are that he has been kidnapped. But when no ransom is demanded, Meredith begins to suspect a more sinister crime has been committed. This seems to be confirmed several days later when human remains are discovered.
As superintendent Meredith pieces the clues together the case begins to take some unexpected turns. The trouble is that none of the pieces fit together as they should. Like a poorly made jigsaw, to make one piece fit, another needs to be abandoned.
The Sussex Downs Murder is a product of its time. It is cleverly plotted and well written, but lacks the fully developed characters, pace and scope you would expect from a modern crime story. This not a bad thing though. There is a certain naivety to the narrative that I found endearing.
My only frustration with it is the way the narrative jumps from one set scene tp the next.
The plot is cleverly laid out and I was as baffled as the police themselves until I top began to see that shape of the missing pieces. And I have to say that I really liked the little twist at the end, so unusual for the time.