Death on the Riviera by John Bude

Since this summer has been something of a washout, weather-wise (at least where I live, anyway), I was glad of the chance to escape to warmer climes recently; and in a bit of an uncertain state about what to read next I launched myself into this lovely volume from the British Library Crime Classics which I picked up on a jaunt to London over the summer. I’ve read and reviewed several of John Bude’s books on the Ramblings, and he’s definitely one of the successes of the BLCC range. His Inspector Meredith is a down-to-earth and appealing character, his mysteries are always set somewhere specific with a strong sense of place, and the plot is always solid and satisfying. And certainly the sunny south of France had a lot more going for it than soggy Suffolk at the end of August…

“Death on the Riviera”, first published in 1952, sees Inspector Meredith and his young sidekick, Acting Sergeant Freddy Strang, heading off to the south of France in pursuit of a criminal. Interestingly, it’s not a murderer they’re after but a counterfeiter, known as ‘Chalky’ Cobbett, and their visit is part of an international effort to track down forged money which is making the rounds. En route, they encounter Bill Dillon, also travelling south, though he is heading to the village of the ageing Nesta Hedderwick in pursuit of his absent wife Kitty. The villa is a centre for some decadent goings-on with a dodgy resident artist, a playboy who’s also keen on Kitty and various hangers-on. Nesta’s niece Dilys seems surprisingly normal, and it’s not long before the two worlds collide, Freddy falls for Dilys, and it seems that the villa may be more involved with the forgery scam than might have first appeared likely. However, this is no straightforward golden age mystery – it’s not revealing too much to say that murder doesn’t happen until well into the book – and it takes all of Meredith’s ingenuity to untangle the threads of the plot and sort out a solution.

I was reminded how much I enjoy Bude’s books as soon as I picked this one up, and it was one of those golden age mysteries you just don’t want to put down. The setting, both in place and time, was spot on; the south of France, with its rich and poor, trend setters and hangers-on, was very vivid, and the fact that the book was set so close, relatively speaking, to the end of WW2, added a little frisson. In fact, the opening of the story, when Bill Dillon is passing through customs at Dunkirk and casting his mind back to the last time he was there, is very atmospheric. Bude’s descriptions are often quite lovely, bringing to life the sun, the landscape and the area beautifully.

Monte Carlo in the 1950s

The plot itself is clever and complex, twisting and turning all over the place. Bude *does* pretty much play fair with the reader and I sussed one particular twist before the end although the specifics evaded me. And several other twists passed me by until they were resolved, if I’m honest. One of the joys of Meredith is that he usually gets his man (or woman) through sheer hard graft. No flights of fancy, but door-to-door questioning, going over and over the problem – and yes, I suppose in the end he *does* let his little grey cells eventually come to the right conclusion. But watching him going through the process is a delight, and the comical romantic misadventures of Strang were great fun too. The solution to the smuggling plot was very, very ingenious and having this run alongside the murder plot added an extra element.

Any misgivings? Not really – I would have liked a little more after-story about a couple of the characters; one in particular was left hanging in an uncomfortable situation at the end of the book and it would have been nice to find out what happened to her (and the other character associated with her). But apart from that, “Death on the Riviera” was the perfect, relaxing, end of summer read and at least I got transported to the sunny coast for a day or two – even if it was in the company of criminals! :))

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