Death on the Riviera: John Bude (1952)

“You’re sure… you’re quite sure it isn’t another woman?”

“Good God! before breakfast? Don’t be crazy.”

In 2015, I read John Bude’s 1936 novel  The Sussex Downs Murder, and Death on the Riviera, published in 1952, came much later in Bude’s writing career. This later novel is much more confident, and Bude (Ernest Elmore 1901-1957) seems much more relaxed with his characters, even throwing in a little light humour. Bude’s series detective, Inspector Meredith, pursues a case of forged currency in France, and this allows Meredith to enjoy the climate, deal with French police, British expats, driving on the right side of the road and language obstacles.

The novel opens with Meredith and Acting Sergeant Freddy Strang travelling to France via ferry in hot pursuit of a team of currency forgers. Scotland Yard recently seized a note that contains the signature elements of master forger, Chalky Cobbett. Chalky who “was pulled in just before the War after flooding the West End with spurious fivers” has been out of prison now for 4 years but suddenly vanished. Then “a flood of counterfeit thousand franc notes” appeared on the Riviera with “Chalky’s touch.” Since the forgery ring preys on wealthy tourists and their “hundred quid travel allowance,” Meredith’s investigation indicates that the Riviera may be a hot spot of activity.

Death on the Riviera

Action centres on Menton and the Villa Paloma, owned by wealthy socialite and widow Nesta Heddderwick, a middle aged woman with a soft spot for “many improvident young men.” Is it then any wonder that her home has become a no-cost refuge for a handful of males raging from artist Paul Latour and dissipated Tony Shenton? Meredith and Strang arrive in Menton to liaise  with French police, and as luck would have it, Strang’s amourous adventures lead to suspicions about the inhabitants of the Villa Paloma.

Murder does occur, but it occurs relatively late in the novel, and this gives the reader plenty of time to enjoy the humour to be found in Nesta’s despotic treatment of her mousy companion, and artist Paul Latour’s latest “masterpiece.”

But, mon dieu! a cod’s head capping the naked torso of a woman balanced on two cactus leaves and garnished with a motif of lemons and spaghetti.

One of the characters references the fact that it’s ten years post Dunkirk, and there’s the feeling that the post WWII boom has created a new sort of crime wave with affluence feeding various types of crime. Not only are forged notes floating all over the “gilded coastline” of the Riviera, but smuggled American cigarettes, a new problem for French police, are also a hot item. Bude explores the tight-knit ex-pat community and the way in which simply being British seals relationships that would not exist in England. At one point, Meredith visits a British Major who lives on the Riviera

it was like stepping out of France into an infinitesimal but unmistakable scrap of the British Empire. It was as one would have expected–regimental groups; a rack of sporting guns; a couple of stuffed salmon; a mantelshelf crowded with silver cups and trophies; and everywhere about the room the indiscriminate lares et penates of the Colonel’s extensive sojourns in the Orient.

This is a novel of its times, so there are a few comments about women being more gullible etc., when there’s a male character who’s every bit as gullible but who is seen as trustworthy, reliable, and a rock solid bastion of society. Bude feels confident enough with his characters to even introduce the question of whether or not Meredith has “been reading too many detective yarns.”

I didn’t quite buy the motive for murder, but in this well-paced tale, the author effectively shows how crime and bad behaviour invite murder into the mix. There’s a great intro from Martin Edwards which includes biographical details including the author’s writing routine and his favourite holiday destination: Menton.

Review copy

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11 Comments

Filed under Bude John, Fiction

11 responses to “Death on the Riviera: John Bude (1952)

  1. I’ve yet to embark on reading any of the British Library Crime Classics, but this one sounds fun.

  2. It is interesting to analyze how books written by the same writer written years apart differ. The more confident feel of this book that you describe is not an uncommon experience. I detect the same thing in the novels of Hermann Hesse and Philip Roth, just to name a couple of writers.

  3. Menton is a nice place.

  4. In one of your earlier reviews you made a similar comment about the post WW II crime wave – which book was that? From memory it was much blacker than this one.

  5. I’m not entirely sold. It sounds a little bit too fluffy.

  6. This sounds like one of the better books in the BLCC series, so I’ll keep an eye out for it in the secondhand shops. I’ve been to other towns on the French Riviera but not Menton. It’s a great setting for this type of story – I couldn’t help but think of Hitchcock’s film To Catch a Thief.

  7. It sounds fun, but not essential by any means. Fluffy as Caroline suggests seems to fit rather well. I do love the opening quote though.

    Jacqui reminds me that I should rewatch To Catch a Thief, but then that’s always true.

  8. I only have two of these British Library Crime collection book but they all look so good – I have to avert my eyes from the display in my local bookshop. Isn’t it fascinating how times have changed although maybe people not so much? I’m particularly taken by the way the expats stick together even if they wouldn’t have given each other the time of day back in the UK – and humour never goes amiss.

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