It’s that time again…Reprint of the Year time!!! Kate at Crossed Examining Crime, has set several of us with the task of giving you our humble opinions on what books we think are the best mystery reprint of the year. This week and next, I (along with my fellow bloggers Aidan, Bev, Brad, Dead Yesterday, Kate, JJ, John, Moira, and Puzzle Doctor) will post our picks, along with our reasons why we think you should vote for them.
Oh, and be sure to read Kate’s post very carefully, because you, my wonderful followers, may get one of your nominees in the voting too!
And so, on to the nominations…
First up is John Bude’s Death in White Pyjamas, originally published by Cassell & Co. Ltd. in 1944, it was reprinted in 2020 by British Library Publishing as part of their Crime Classics series.
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?
Now why should you give this reprint your vote? Because you LOVE a traditional British mystery and this one fits the bill. In my humble opinion, 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, Bude keeps the reader’s attention from the outset by creating a unique group of characters, then over time putting them in situations that sets one against the other. You also get to see Bude’s love of the theatre and amateur dramatics as reflected in his strong characterizations and sharp choreography of scenes.
The descriptions of the characters alone 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, 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.
This is really is quite an enjoyable read, and one that I very much recommend. I hope it meets your rigorous standards for Reprint of the Year.