The Rev Ebenezer Buckle

(creator: Nicholas Brady)

John Vincent Turner
The House of Strange Guests cover The Rev Ebenezer Buckle is a "middle aged man, slighty built, bent at the shoulders, with pale blue eyes blinking unceasingly beneath a ragged mass of wispy hair." He is a small man, with thick lensed glasses. He has "a peculiar walk of his own - a weird action consisting of tentative movements of the feet followed by curious contortions of the body ... The man's voice matched his appearance, The tone was indeterminate, the method of delivery was typical of the neurasthenic - slow, faltering, reluctant." And he constantly quotes the classics - especially in the first book.

His brother, who conveniently happens to be Assistant Commissioner of Police at Scotland Yard, explains that he "is not what he looks .... He looks very simple, and talks an infernal amount of rubbish" but "he's a contradiction in manners and appearance. He's as subtle as they're made." Indeed, for him, "riddles and mysteries were the breath of life".

He is rector of the tiny parish of Dowerby in Hampshire, and that, his brother says, " leaves him with a tremendous amount of spare time, and to a man with his mental and physical energy, idleness is insufferable." Buckle himself explains, "I had the faith without the vital enthusiasm. I found that to maintain my career it was advisable for me to find other interests. One I found in gardening .... but suddenly I found to my astonishment - in spite of my mild manner and antiquated ways - I needed a certain amount of excitement as a stimulant. This I found in crime."

So "he dabbled with psychology, particularly criminal psychology" then moved on to getting to know criminals as they left gaol and so "received more than a little information upon the inside aspects of crime .... He knew even more about crime than about the Scriptures." And then he pestered his brother at Scotland Yard "conversing with any of our men who had personally handled murdered cases" (much as the author himself had done in his journalist days). But when he went on to make suggestions about current murder cases, which led to actual arrests, his brother, and his colleagues in the police, found it paid to take him seriously.

Nicholas Brady (real name: John Victor Turner, 1900-1945) was a prolific British writer (at one time producing a novel every fortnight) who wrote most of his books under the name David Hume. After nine years as a Fleet Street crime reporter (who spent much time at Scotland Yard, waiting for stories to break), he became a full-time thriller writer, but kept up his old contacts with the criminal world by spending weeks at a time living in London's underworld and mixing with criminals. "His personality," according to one of his blurbs, "is such that he won his way completely into the confidence of the criminals themselves, who revealed to him the precise methods they employ to enter a house or to open a safe".

The House of Strange Guests (1932)
The House of Strange Guests sees Divisional Detective-Inspector Hallows investigating a body-in-the-bath suicide/murder at The Gables at Streatham Common in London. It's an intriguing insight into life in the early 1930s, as in the way that Inspector Hallows and an accompanying detective, having received a phone call from the dead man's butler reporting his master's apparent suicide, rushed to the scene of the crime: they "jumped on to a passing omnibus, and three minute later alighted from the vehicle at the corner of Streatham Common. There they caught one of the Crystal Palace buses, and even before the conductor arrived to collect their fares, the C.I.D. men had jumped off the bus." No speeding police cars with flashing lights for them!

The dead man seems to have been a rich bachelor of about fifty years of age who had large numbers of guests (as many as 150 a year), there being five of them there at the time of his death. The butler tells Hallows that "The master used to have some very funny guests ... They always seemed such an odd mixture. Always seemed to me that they had nothing in common either among themselves or with the master." And they all seem to have false names. Among them, as Hollings eventually discovers, is The Rev Ebenezer Buckle, who, it turns out, is investigating a case of blackmail involving a neighbouring parishioner.

There is a lot of interviewing and discussion, and not really any exciting action, but the talk is often quite interesting, and the period setting and the eccentric character of Ebenezer Buckle hold the interest fairly well. As Buckle tells Hollings, "If you'd like me to lend a hand, I'm not going to work in the dark. Either you lay your cards on the table or I take a back seat. Take your choice." Hallows, having been told by the Assistant Commissioner to work with him, has to agree. "Ebenezer rubbed his hands and smiled. Obviously the prospect of a hunt cheered him. Murder never appeared to him so much as a crime as an opportunity of exercising peculiar functions of the brain over a number of hours."

So off he goes, free to tell Hollings what to do, interview suspects on his own, and, if necessary, pretend to be what he's not ("His calling never prevented him from absolving himself when it seemed that the ends of justice had prior claim over hard facts, There were moments, in his view, when the virtue of the end attained could excuse the nature of the means employed"). Eventually he even bluffs his way into securing the murderer's confession.

The lengthy explanations at the end get rather tedious and, as Hollings tells Buckle, "If you were in the Police Force and you chanced your arm as much as you did .... you'd be found out and dismissed the Force with ignomony. It's a good thing for you that you're only a parson."

Ebenezer Investigates (1934)
Ebenezer Investigates sees the village of Dowerby struggling to raise the money to pay for a Parish Hall. The Rector, Ebenezer Buckle, tells them that "it seemed foolish to spend hundreds on a building that wasn't wanted at a time when there existed in the village distress amomg three or four families curable at a cost of twenty pounds." But, even so, he agreed to help run a bazaar to pay off the debt. And the bazaar "was the jolliest thing seen in Dowerby since five highwaymen were hanged from the oak tree down Green Lane two hundred years before". It is all described in a gently humorous way, as when Buckle fails to sell anything from his flower stall as he is so busy lecturing possible purchasers on the characteristics and history of each particular species.

Then, when taking part in a treasure hunt, Buckle discovers the body of a young woman lying face down in a trench: "A knife had been plunged into the white throat, and even now the black handle and some five inches of steel protruded from the ghastly wound." And he recognised the girl as Constance Bell, who had been at the bazaar, and who had been stabbed with the very knife that he had used to cut the cake. He instructs local Police Constable Timms to telephone Chief Constable Kail, who is an old friend of his. Both the Chief Constable and Detective Inspector Bourton seem happy to do whatever Buckle tells them. There is soon no doubt about who is really in charge. He even instrcts them where to take fingerprints. "We can't afford to miss chances," Buckle tells them.
"Kail turned round to speak when Ebenezer used the 'we', but he changed his mind. It was true that the parson had intruded without invitation, but Kail knew enough to realize that by Buckle's presence throughout the enquiries he had everything to gain and nothing to lose."
As for Buckle, all he asks is that "the case should be reasonably difficult of solution".

It is hardly likely that a Chief Constable would really get so involved in first-hand investigations (he even sets out in the early hours of the morning to search a local copse with Buckle and Inspector Bourton), but aspects of village life are well portrayed, and there are interesting period touches as when it is arranged for a S.O.S. message about a missing woman to be broadcast "on the wireless".

Buckle soon discovers that the young Lord Fasterly wants behind-the-scenes information about the investigation so pressurises him in giving money to his bazaar. Later on, he does not hesitate to tell him, "Go home, Lord Fasterly, and try hard to remember that you were made to be a man". And it is Buckle, of course, who identifies the murderer, although, at first, in the best tradition of old-fashioned detective stories, he will not tell his colleagues who it is. Then to secure an actual confession, he has to fix some of the evidence. As he tells Kail, "I'm allowed to do things that men of the official force dare not try".

Towards the end, the long conversations and explanations get tedious, and the behaviour of the police is wildly improbable (despite the author's apparent expertise in the area), but there is a period charm about the gentle unfolding of the tale - and Buckle himself is quite a character.

There were three other Ebenezer Buckle novels: The Fair Murder, titled Carnival Murder in the USA, (1933), Week-End Murder (1933), and Coupons for Death (1944), but I have not been able to find copies of these.


There is hardly anything about the author on the web.

The Ebenezer Buckle books are expensive and difficult (if not impossible) to find. I bought both of mine on ebay.


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The first of the Buckle books is the easiest to find.
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