The Sussex Downs Murder – Not Really A Review

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For anyone who loves the English South Downs – and whodunnits – this book makes an interesting read.

On the one hand, it is a fairly average 1930’s detective murder mystery, although I have certainly read much worse, but on the other it provides some marvellous insights into the South Downs in the area specifically around Chanctonbury Ring in that time, which is really what took my interest.

Personally, I prefer murder mysteries involving ‘normal’ people, rather than the typical country house full of assorted Colonels and ladies and royalty and such-like, so popular at the time – other than the thought of bumping off the Upper Classes, of course! But this book delivers in that it is set on a downland farm, where the farmer goes missing, believed murdered. It even has, as a cover, an adaptation of one of the fabulous Leslie Carr railway posters of the 1930’s – what’s not to like?

The introduction mentions its ‘sense of place’, and the writing seems to me especially good at conveying an accurate feel of the landscape. One thing that comes over very strongly is the emptiness of the countryside at that time. The Downs have been sparsely inhabited since Roman times; before then, much of the population chose to live on the higher, drier, lands of the chalklands of South and South East England, away from the forested and frequently marshy lower areas where travel was difficult and clearance very hard work. After the arrival of the Romans, however, all this changed, and since then the chalklands have been left largely to a small population living mainly by farming sheep.

We now have many people visiting for leisure purposes and on fine days popular routes such as the walk to Birling Gap from Eastbourne (or from convenient car parks much closer!) may easily see hundreds of visitors striding along the footpaths and hanging off the edge of the cliffs taking selfies (other stupid ways to kill oneself are available). On the same day, though, nearby footpaths may see no visitors at all. It is still a sparsely populated area.

John Bude evokes this sense of emptiness well. His descriptions of the roads and paths on and around the area really allow the reader to feel this. His characters walk the lanes and roads of the downs frequently without meeting anyone else on their journeys. Farms and houses are ‘isolated’, and even at a time when most people would travel by public transport to cover any distance, the population is so small that when questioned by the detective on the case, a bus conductor can remember who was on his bus several weeks before.

There are four lime kilns near Washington, on the edge of the area described in the story, which I suspect were the inspiration for the lime kiln featured on the farm in the book. No spoilers, but you might well guess their relevance to a murder mystery.

But it is the descriptions of the roads and paths that particularly take my interest, roads and paths virtually empty of footfall or traffic even during the day, emphasising how lightly populated the area was, and still is today, to a degree. Other than popular footpaths such as the long distance South Downs Way, and those footpaths running between popular tourist spots, it is still easy to find solitude in this quiet area of the otherwise heavily populated South East England.

The Old Way 6

Poem #6 of 6. The end of the journey.

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The Old Way 6

 

When the square sails of the invading Romans

First appeared over the horizon,

This path was already ancient.

When the first sword was forged,

When the giant stones were placed

In mysterious alignments,

This path was already old.

Only when the great ice giants

Relaxed their grip on the land

Were these paths young.

These are paths to tread reverently,

Mindful of those countless others

Who also once passed this way.

Friend, take your place on this journey,

You are in fine company.

Writing Update

When I started this blog almost three years ago, it was with the intention of both writing about writing, and building a bit of an audience for my own writing.

It has altered rather a lot in that time, but I try not to completely lose sight of those aims. One of those aims is to every now and again blow my own trumpet a little bit, as well as bring you up to date with what I’m writing at the moment.

And, today’s that day again, as since the last time I posted about my book I seem to have gained a lot of new followers (well, quite a few – see 1000 Up), including a good number from India, where the story takes place.

Making Friends with the Crocodile cover

About the book…

This is a story concerning both the way that women are seen and how they are treated in traditional Indian society. I am extremely fortunate in that I have received many kind reviews for the book, and would like to quote part of one of these:

This beautifully written story, set in a village in Bihar, draws you in from its first page. We see the household through the eyes of Siddiqa, wife of Maajid, mother of two school-age girls and her son Tariq, who is married to Naira. We are drawn into the rivalry between Siddiqa and Naira, in a society where the men are the only wage earners and the women’s lives must, by tradition, revolve around their wishes. Small incidents pile up, one after another, as the underlying harmony of the household is fractured by the resentment and self-loathing of Naira. The family is Moslem, the village is a mix of Moslem and Hindu, and one incident threatens the uneasy cohabitation of the two communities. The police, seen as a hostile force in the village, get involved with an unpredictable outcome to the novel.

And it can be bought by clicking on this link: Making Friends With The Crocodile

And what am I up to at the moment?

Goodness me, much too much, as usual.

Some of you may remember I have been working on a novel with the working title of The Assassin’s Garden for quite a while, in an on and off sort of way. It had grown into what threatened to become a trilogy, but I recently decided that much of the plot line no longer worked for me.

With that in mind, I began reworking the first part into what I thought would simply become a novella or novelette (I can never remember which is which), but with a new thread and suddenly a new set of ideas linking them, it looks as though the trilogy is still very much on.

So the new first book is some 30,000 words in length at the moment, and looking good!

I am also working on a short story in response to one written by a friend, a rather tongue-in-cheek Sherlock Holmes mystery. I may post it later this year on the blog.

I’ve several other short stories put aside for the present, as is the other novel I’m working on sporadically.

Speaking of short stories, though, I decided against publishing the collection of short stories I had planned for last winter. I felt they didn’t really work as a collection – I felt I’d rather have a more coherent theme (such as ghost stories, or Indian stories or what have you). One of them has now been published in a collection by my writing group (Stories From Anywhere), and I have submitted another for the follow-up book which will be out later this year, hopefully. I’m sure the others will see the light of day in some form or another at some point!

Every now and again I churn out another poem, although I see these largely as a bit of an educational exercise. I’d love to write good poetry, but…

With luck, I’ll get some of them finished this year!