Death of Cold (Leo Bruce)

  • By Leo Bruce
  • First published: UK: Peter Davies, 1956

Probably the best Carolus Deene I’ve read so far.  It starts slowly, in a sordid, dreary, seaside town in autumn (c.f. Crack of Doom).  One of the characters is a newsagent imprisoned (wrongly, in his opinion) for pornography, and the police are far more concerned with ‘public morality’ than investigating murders.  This was written shortly after Croft-Cooke’s imprisonment for homosexuality; he dropped Sergeant Beef, and opened Deene’s career with the murder of a policeman.

The second half is engrossing, with a second murder.  The murderer become obvious as soon as the third corpse is discovered. Bruce’s books lack impact, because there’s too long a gap between the reader becoming aware of who the culprit is, and the detective revealing the solution. In the Beef books, for instance, the detectives follow the culprit for a couple of chapters, before Beef tells Townsend he’s not the next victim but the murderer. The solution is full of Christiean cleverness, particularly the use of the telephone box.

A map of the pier would have improved the book.


BLURB

1956 Peter Davies

The regular fishermen on Oldhaven pier had gone home for the night:  yet one rod remained, and beside it a basket and a canvas bag left carelessly on the seat:  the little bell was tinkling but there was no one to draw the line.

This wasn’t discovered until the next morning:  and in the course of the next day many people are wondering what has become of the Mayor, himself a keen fisherman: the police begin to investigate: but it is a trio of schoolboys who, a few days later, went prawning on the rocks a mile away from the pier who found what was left of the Mayor.  They came on his body sprawling hideously across the beach, left by the tide, a bloated and gruesome sight…

Accident, suicide—or murder?  The coroner’s verdict is Found Drowned.  And the police soon rule out murder and quickly lose interest in the other two alternatives.  But Carolus Deene, the endearing schoolmaster who dabbled so successfully with his “amateur detection” in At Death’s Door, is in the neighbourhood; he becomes friendly with the Mayor’s daughter and son-in-law; is encouraged to “take up” the case; and becomes convinced it is murder.

And murder it is!  Diabolically ingenious murder.  Soon to be followed by another.  And almost a third…

A top-grade whodunit by an expert at his craft.


CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS

Times Literary Supplement (Philip John Stead, 18th May 1956):

CRIMINAL ACTIVITY

Like the Walrus and the Carpenter, the crime novel revels in the miscellaneous.  Piers at holiday seaside resorts, schools, art-dealers and spinster aunts have all been grist to the mill of the writers under review [Julian SymonsThe Paper Chase, Richard Powell’s False Colours, and Josephine Bell’s Death in Retirement].  In Death of Cold, Mr. Bruce takes his readers to the seaside to look into the mysterious death of the Mayor of Oldhaven.  The police, anxious not to spoil the prospects of the Chamber of Commerce, are content to let sleeping dogs lie.  The dead man’s relatives, however, persuade a schoolmaster-detective, who is conveniently to hand as a holiday acquaintance, to make some inquiries.  These serve to introduce several more or less amusing minor characters and make it clear that the Mayor was murdered.  Carolus Deene, the history teacher, traces the murderer, an extremely ingenious individual (until the end, an extremely lucky one, too) with whom no fault can be found, except the unlikelihood of such a person ever committing the crime.

Newcastle Journal: Leo Bruce knows how to pour out the thrills and he does it very successfully in Death of Cold.

The Observer: Solid, English and readable.

A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): The murder of the mayor who was fishing from the pier is rather stretched out over a bank of red herrings not native to the local waters, but C.D.’s goings-about are good fun.