Death in White Pyjamas by John Bude (1944)

In October of every year the company of the Beaumont Theatre begin rehearsals for their upcoming season. “Often these first rehearsals were held at Old Knolle, in a house-party sort of atmosphere. After resting, strained nerves were relaxed. Old feuds were forgotten.” But this year things are a bit more strained. The director and writer are both in love with the ingénue; the set designer has accused the writer of theft, and the principle actor in the company is up to his neck in gambling debts and alcohol. Is it any wonder that one member of the company is found dead by the lake, wearing a pair of white satin pyjamas?

I was so taken by this book. It may well be the most entertaining of Bude’s novels that I’ve read so far. While the murder doesn’t take place until well into the story, he keeps the reader’s attention from the outset by creating a unique group of characters, then over time, putting them in situations the set one against the other. Bude’s love of the theatre and amateur dramatics reflected in his strong characterizations and sharp choreography of scenes.

Bude’s descriptions of the characters just are marvelous. We have a credulous biscuit millionaire and theatrical promoter, who “Like so many promoters of theatrical entertainment, knew absolutely nothing about the theatre.” A producer who is a “congenital philanderer”, and who it he “put his hand in his pocket you expected him to produce a revolver. Actually he produced plays.” The old character actor who “aped a kind of Louis Quinze daintiness, which deceived people into believing him a nice mild-mannered old gentleman.” And the set designer, a woman with a “Gioconda smile”, who “as one woman was dedicated to bridge and another to squash or the singing of madrigals, intrigue was her hobby.”

And you can always count on Bude to inject lots of humor into his stories, and he certainly succeeded here. Whether it’s taking mild jabs at the theater world—

“It is, of course, a notorious fact that intelligent theatre-goers have no money and moneyed theatre-goers have no intelligence.”

Or in his characterization of the local police Sergeant—

“The sergeant never walked anywhere. He waddled. He was the Falstaffian type of Englishman, popular to a degree, who wheezes and chuckles and roars his way through life, as amiable and deceptive as a hippo.”

As alluded to earlier, it’s quite two-thirds into the story before the murder takes place. But Bude uses that time to good effect, building stories and tension so that when Inspector Harting and Sergeant Dane arrive on the scene there is a tangle of relationships to unpick, motives to uncover, and multiple red herrings to see through. For the habitual reader of crime fiction, it won’t really be that hard to pick out the murderer. But, do not let that deter you because the method of murder is ingenious, so figuring out the how is a totally different story. 

An overall enjoyable read, and one that I very much recommend. Now it’s on to part two—Death Knows No Calendar.

Source – Review copy (Poisoned Press via NetGalley)…but an admission…I also bought the physical book from Waterstones and actually read from that.

My Judgment – 4.5/5

Prior Rulings – Kate @ Cross Examining Crime, The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2013 Scattergories –  #1: Colorful Crime – a book with a color or reference to a color in the title 

Calendar of Crime – May #8: Month-related item on cover – flowers 

4 thoughts on “Death in White Pyjamas by John Bude (1944)

    1. I really think Bude used his build up well in this one. And I can’t believe I missed the method! It was so obvious, but I was diverted by the humor and characters…obviously Bude’s intent.

  1. Tried reading his Cornish Coast Murder but couldn’t make much progress but am reading only good things about this one. Perhaps time to give the author another try.

    1. I have found that not everyone enjoys his brand of mystery writing. I’ve loved every one of his books. Plus this one has a bit more snarky wit than gentle humor.

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