The Cheltenham Square Murder – John Bude

It’s funny. With all the exploration of how murder was committed in this book, how an arrow can cause death by “entering the fleshy part of the skull” (?) and all that good stuff – still, what grossed me out the most with this book was the fact that the victim, once the arrow was removed from his head, was carried away from the scene of death to be laid out in his own room, on his own bed. And all I could envision was what a horrific mess that bed is going to be. And who’s going to have to clean that up?

In a way, this is an inverse locked-room mystery.

It’s been a long time since I pulled a bow, and I was never an expert of any sort, but there were a few things that just didn’t sit right with the handling of archery and how it was considered in the investigation of the mystery. Like the fact that it came as a great surprise that there were no fingerprints on the arrow. “What the devil do you mean—there must have been. A chap couldn’t pull an arrow without handling it, could he?” Well … sure. Gloves. Thin leather gloves, to provide a grip while still allowing the ability to feel the string, would be no impediment in using a bow, as best I can remember.

Now and then there’s a confluence of names in a book which is just fun. A recent cozy had a character with my first name as his last and my last name as his first; a historical mystery had a character named Betty Draper, which brought back happy memories of Mad Men. (Not of the character, but the show.) Here there were two detectives who as partners came together to make me snort softly: “Long and Shanks then got into the police-car” made it sound like Aragorn had come on the scene.

So … according to this book, it’s impossible to crack a safe in the classic movie tradition of listening for the fall of the tumblers? *Paging Mythbusters*

Cheltenham Square is very much a product of its time. “Will there be anybody in next door? I had an idea that Captain Cotton lived alone.” “He does—except for his man, Albert.” My eyebrows popped up at the failure to count Albert as a person living in the house, added as little more than an afterthought. Of course he’s not, in this period – he’s staff. The problem with that is that, of course, that afterthought could have as easily been the murderer as anyone else in the book.

An other thing that especially dated this book to its moment was the attitude toward Miss Boon’s dogs. She’s a spinster of a certain age who has pack of dogs (she’s not a crazy cat lady, she’s an eccentric dog lady). She has a moment in the sun as a strong suspect in the murders which occur, but after all, her only motive for killing one of them is that he killed one of her dogs. The police pooh-pooh it – come, now, that’s no reason to murder a man. It’s not a real motive. Perhaps “an eccentric woman with an overwhelming, single-minded passion for dogs” might … nah. Not likely. And there I beg to differ. I’m fairly pacifistic – but anyone who ever laid a finger on any of my dogs would have paid. In blood. In my world it’s a more than sufficient motive.

I had some guesses about how the murder (that is, murders) happened, and also about the motive. I was on the right track with the why (mistaken identity for the first murder: it seemed so obvious to me when it was pointed out that all that was visible of the first victim was the back of his head, easily mistaken for someone else’s. It also seemed like a very cool idea for the second killing to then be a red herring, making it seem as though the first one was a mistake and therefore any motives or opportunity that applied to the first one could be washed out…, but what seemed absolutely obvious to me was that what everyone thought was the method – an archer’s shot from across the square – was, in point of fact, not. (I was convinced that what actually happened was that the person in the room with that first victim, who claimed to have just turned away for a minute during which the victim was shot, actually had an arrow on him and simply stabbed the victim. I still like my idea better … mostly. Oh! I also glommed onto the fact that golf came into play, so to speak – a golf bag would, after all, be a great place to hide arrows.)

Some of the procedural moments seemed a little off, which I imagine is due to the age of the book. Or maybe I was just totally wrong when I was surprised that the police didn’t retain the key to the building from which they thought the arrow was shot?

The writing was entertaining, and the characters got the job done. I’m still not enamored of the plot, but it did keep me guessing (even if I grumpily muttered that at least one of my ideas was more fun). But … seriously? Someone kills your dog and you won’t at least wish that person a little dead? Really? Huh.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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