Death on the Riviera by John Bude 3.5 stars
Death on the Riviera by John Bude
Death on the Riviera

John Bude
Superintendent William Meredith #4
  • Category:Crime Fiction
  • Date Read:27 November 2023
  • Published:1952
  • Pages223
  • 3.5 stars

Death on the Riviera is set, as the title suggests, on the French Riviera, an exotic setting for a Golden Age mystery. Perhaps Bude felt that his readers might feel the same as his main detective Meredith and welcome a break from English weather – “And it wouldn't be easy, he realised, to take leave of this sunlit, sparkling coast with its terraced vineyards, and olive groves, its palms and oleanders, its fantastic cacti, its mimosa scented streets and impossibly blue seas. He thought of Old Kent Road on a wet February night and shuddered.” The death part of the title eventually comes, but not until we are nearly at the end of the book. Rather, most of the detective action is centred on a ring of counterfeiters who are distributing fake British currency to gullible tourists.

As well as the two detectives (Meredith is accompanied by his sergeant, Freddy Sprang), we are introduced to the household of Nesta Hodderwick, a wealthy middle-aged lady who opens her villa in Menton to an interesting assortment of characters, and to Bill Dillon, a seemingly nice Britisher who is just in Menton for a holiday. This gives us a broad range of suspicious characters but keeps them mostly contained to a single household. We also have two French detectives thrown into the mix, Inspector Blampignon in Nice and Inspector Gibaud in Menton.

Meredith and Sprang travel to the Riviera after Scotland Yard is called in to assist the French Police who have realised a complex counterfeit operation is being worked on their turf. The actual counterfeiter has been identified as Chalky Cobbett, a well-known Cockney forger. We follow Meredith and Sprang’s undercover attempts to identify other members of the operation and locate Chalky and his press. This action is interspersed in the book with the activities of Nesta’s household, as we gradually learn that almost everyone in the house has something to hide. This includes Bill, who turns out to be an old acquaintance of Nesta’s, and is consequently invited to join the household.

The undercover work of hanging around the nightclubs of Nice and Monte Carlo (it’s a tough life) eventually pays off for Meredith and Sprang, and they identify one of the gang. A clumsy mistake by another gang member allows them to work out the details of how the gang operates. Rather than arrest the three members they are sure of, they wait to find Chalky, the leader.

After a few days of hard work and a lucky break, Meredith realises where Chalky is hiding, and they are ready to swoop on the whole gang. They get Chalky and one of the others, but find that the other two are missing. The car of one of these characters turns up at a remote beach, with bloodstains on the car’s running-board. A body turns up soon after, but it appears to be the body of Bill, not that of the missing counterfeiter.

The counterfeiting investigation rapidly transforms into a murder investigation! While initially confused, it doesn’t take the detectives too many pages to wrap up the whole mystery and identify the murderer. I did find it a little strange that once they start in on the murder investigation, everyone seems to forget the other missing counterfeiter. He just vanishes from the plot and presumably makes good his escape. Another strange part of the ending is that, although the murderer is identified in the second last chapter, he has left the district and all the police can do is issue an alert to find him. His actual capture is reduced to just a few lines in the last pages, intertwined between declarations of love between two of the characters. Yes, in addition to assisting the solving of two separate investigations, Sprang, to the amusement of Meredith, finds time to fall in love.

There really isn’t much to the mysteries, but Bude is a good storyteller, and the book is extremely entertaining. It has some beautiful descriptions of the Riviera which make the setting very easy to visualise, and it is loaded with witty dialogue between characters which keeps the whole story light-hearted. Despite the glamourous setting, it’s still an essentially British mystery, centred around British characters. Overall this is an enjoyable and engaging mystery.

John Bude
John Bude
John Bude is the pseudonym used by Ernest Elmore for thirty mystery novels. He also wrote fantasy novels and a children's book under his own name. As well as being a member of the Detection Club, he was also a founder member of the Norfolk-based Crime Writers Association (CWA)
The French Riveira
The French Riviera
The French Riviera (also known as the Côte d'Azur) is on the Mediterranean of the southeast corner of France. The area was one of the first modern resort areas. At the end of the 18th century it became a winter health retreat for the British upper class. By the early 20th century it was well established as the playground and vacation spot of British, Russian and other aristocrats. After World War II it became a popular tourist destination. The area gets between 310-330 days of sunshine per year, has 115km of coastline and beaches, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts and 3,000 restaurants, making it still a popular tourist centre.
Apart from the climate, another reason for its popularity was gambling. In the mid-19th century gambling was illegal in France and Italy. But Monaco, a sovereign city-state on the Riviera, allowed casinos to operate. The gambling facilities contributed to the principality becoming a preferred tourist destination for the rich.
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Menton is a town on the French Riviera in southeast France, known for its beaches and gardens. Located close to the glitz and glamour of Monaco and Nice, but considered quieter and less crowded. Its climate made it a popular destination for tuberculosis suffers in the mid-19th century. It then became popular with British and Russian aristocrats who built many of the hotels, villas and palaces which are still used in Menton today.