Brutal killings as whodunnit lives up to its grim title

The dramatic cover of the new book and, right, author John Pick
The dramatic cover of the new book and, right, author John Pick

Murder on the South Downs is the subject of a stylish new whodunnit.

Masque of Blood by retired university professor John Pick lives up to its grim title.

Without reason, corpses appear on the downs, at a freezing Polegate Railway Station and during a pantomime at the Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne when a third is gruesomely revealed.

‘A blood-splattered figure in a white dress was rising from the tree stump, tendrils knotted round it like the tangled strings of a marionette, its shiny bald head bobbing on its broken neck ... staring transfixed at this lurid apparition dangling before them, the audience began to scream ...’

The author was the founding Professor of Europe’s first Department of Arts Policy and Management at City University, London, and remains Emeritus Professor of Cultural Policy.

He is no newcomer to authorship, though previous books have been largely concerned with the history of popular entertainment.

Since retiring to Eastbourne in 2002, John has produced a definitive history of the Royal Hippodrome Theatre, an autobiography and a critique of the Brexit fiasco. So what drew him to crime writing?

He explained: “I am fascinated by the sinister currents that run beneath modern life – even in elegant Eastbourne. The detective thriller is the perfect means of shining a light on those dark places.”

Masque of Blood, which also features Lewes and Alfriston, introduces us to a diverse range of characters – an ex-detective confined to a wheelchair after a horrific car crash, a nymphomaniac police commissioner, a struggling young actor sidelining as a gigolo and a prominent ornithologist with an interest in more than birds.

There are others from everyday life in Eastbourne including a tipsy council leader and a blusteringly ineffective MP.

Subtle humour is woven into the story - notably in the aftermath of the panto horror – while the story moves on to reveal the killer.

Eastbourne artist Jane Montague has worked with the author to complement the text with clever illustrations and a dramatic cover design.

Masque of Blood is published by Grosvenor House Publishing and is priced at £7.99.