Death Makes A Prophet

Welworth Garden City is a rarefied little town with a plethora of litter baskets and flowering shrubs, and absolutely no bill-boards or pubs. Among its elite it boasts a high percentage of vegetarians, non-smokers and non-drinkers and is the home of the Children of Osiris, usually referred to as the Cult of Coo or Cooism. Founded by Eustace Mildmann, and originally based on the mythology of Ancient Egypt, it has adapted and modernised to include any number of dogmas, until now in 1947, it finds itself ‘an obliging religion because one could find in it pretty well anything one looked for.’

Eustace the High Prophet is a dreamy, softly spoken widower who lives with his son Terence in the mockest of mock-Tudor mansions on Almond Avenue and Peta Penpeti a man with the manners of ‘a French count’ is Prophet-in-Waiting. There are six High Priests of the Inmost Temple but the force behind the movement and the financial prop is the Hon. Alicia Hagge-Smith who manages to increase the numbers from a select few to several thousand. Banded together by a common faith maybe but one that conceals emerging jealousies, intrigue and hostility.

The first half of Death Makes A Prophet is set in Welworth and is told with a lighthearted humour that’s mostly at the expense of trances, elevations to Higher Planes, yogi’s and bean rissoles but there were lots of engaging characters with hints to a sinister past and who set the scene for a more complex plot which comes when the setting moves to Sussex and the first Cult of Coo Summer School, held at Old Cowdene Estate, Mrs Hagge-Smith’s home.

There are poisonings, shootings, mistaken identities and red-herrings aplenty. As the plot thickens and bodies start to appear Chief Inspector Meredith is called in from Scotland Yard to try and make sense of it all. It did turn into a more routine murder enquiry but it moved along at a good pace and I enjoyed the whydunit as much as the whodunit.

But, reading this was like having a huge cold jug of memories poured over me. Memories of that horrible middle-aged, white male humour that treats everything outside of the mainstream as a joke, and this includes women. All the female characters were stereotypes, if they were young they only had one thing on their minds and that was to ‘trap’ men, and if they were old they were either harridans like Mrs Hagge-Smith or worse still a ‘crazy old biddy’ like gentle spinster Miss Minnybell.

I know this is always a problem with reading from this era and I do think we have to read in context but this really reminded me of a certain type of ‘humour’ in the ’70’s, and brought it home to me how much has changed for the better and how delighted I am not to be living in 1947 despite enjoying so much from that decade!

15 thoughts on “Death Makes A Prophet

  1. It’s fun though to read these old books just to remind ourselves that attitudes *have* changed – sometimes we forget how far we’ve come in the last half century! This wasn’t my favourite Bude but I enjoyed all the Cooism stuff. 😀

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    1. That is true and I do think we have to read them as of their time, but I was so struck by the tone of voice that I wouldn’t have been being honest if I didn’t say something. And yes all the cooism was fun!!

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  2. I’ve just finished Bude’s The Cheltenham Square Murder and the female characters were treated much the same in it. The style must have been perfectly acceptable at the time, as unthinkable as it seems now.

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    1. I think that’s just the way men spoke to and about women, it just brought back so many memories that I had to say something! It hasn’t put me off reading Bude though, the plot was quite fun!

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      1. The attitude didn’t put me off either, but it was noticeable. I would love to read a female reviewer’s opinion of these books that was written at the time though, to know if they were acceptable or taken as being tongue in cheek!

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  3. I haven’t actually read that much Golden Age crime, but at least Agatha Christie had some feisty female characters. Perhaps, the problem with stereotypes was worse with male authors?

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    1. It’s been ages since I read any Christie, but I can’t remember ever being shocked by misogyny. It’s very interesting looking at the change in language isn’t it?

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  4. While this particular mystery is new to me, I’ve read others by Bude and enjoyed them very much. Sadly, these retrograde attitudes are often a feature of Golden Age literature, very much a reflection of the times and a salutary reminder of how awful it was to be a woman back then. Thank goodness things have changed somewhat since then, if not completely…

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  5. I think it might be the ‘humour’ that has made the tone of this one so condescending. I wasn’t sure whether to mention it, because as you say, these attitudes are just part and parcel of the reading from this era and it is just a light caper, but it affected my reading so much that I didn’t feel I was being honest if I didn’t mention it at all.

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