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Death Makes a Prophet

If there are many roads that lead to perdition, then there are as many that lead to salvation; and England probably houses more diverse, odd and little known religions than any other country in the world.

John Bude, Death Makes a Prophet

~ ~ ~

Death Makes a Prophet was a wild ride. The characters are interesting and quite varied. The setting is unusual, both of the small religious cult and the large estate. And there’s plenty to keep you guessing throughout the entire book, but especially in the first half.

Part 1 of the book is around 100 pages long and sets up the characters, setting, religious cult, and various tiffs, rifts, and secrets to be found among the followers. As you read, you’re left with quite a few competing ideas about who is going to die and why. Bude’s writing is excellent, and his characterization is engaging and engrossing. When the first part of the book ended, I really had no clear idea who was going to be killed or which motive would be enough to induce one of the characters to murder.

Inspector Meredith doesn’t enter until a few chapters into Part 2. He’s a very likable Inspector and gets along well with the local police, even enjoying his time working with them. He’s a very thoughtful Inspector, using both evidence and lots of logical, careful thinking to get to the outcome.

“So, he was back where he had started and progress in the case was, precisely, nil!”

It’s a doozy of a puzzle when it comes down to it. Some people clearly couldn’t have performed the murder. Some people could have, but don’t have anything resembling a motive. There’s a lot of back and forth and round and round about suspects, opportunity, ability, motive… it’s a merry-go-round for a few chapters. But Meredith’s police work is interesting and fun to read.

I found this a lot of fun to read and compare to the religious cult in Ngaio Marsh’s Death in Ecstasy. There were some similarities in the cult and in the characters of both books. Alleyn is a different sort of policeman and his book had quite a bit more to the hidden story. But both were enjoyable. There was a short story in Agatha Christie’s The Labors of Hercules, “The Flock of Geryon,” that also dealt with a religious cult. This phenomenon has popped up so often, I’m ready to dig into it a little bit more and find some info and history about these cults and sects that peppered England in the early 20th century.

This one was also interesting after reading the inverted mystery, Antidote to Venom. This one isn’t inverted, of course, but since the Inspector doesn’t show up until the second part of the book has already begun. Some parts, the setup specifically, are more drawn out. The investigation isn’t exactly crammed into the second half, but it’s unusual to read a mystery where the crime doesn’t happen within the first couple of chapters. The difference made for some great tension building which I enjoyed.

This was my first introduction to Inspector Meredith and John Bude. Though I’ve just started reading another of Bude’s British Library Crime Classic reprints, The Cheltenham Square Murder, because I had so much fun reading him. As Martin Edwards says in the foreword of Death Makes a Prophet, “Rather like Inspector Meredith, Bude was evidently a likeable fellow, and this novel… displays his talent for writing likeable mysteries.”

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