The third Miles Burton title, and the second to feature urbane series sleuth Desmond Merrion, this book was first published in 1931, during a period when Major Street was rapidly expanding his repertoire. His ‘John Rhode’ books were pretty well established, having been published regularly since 1925 and already numbering morre than a dozen titles. Additionally, at the same time as the first ‘Miles Burton’ books appeared he had also embarked on the ‘Cecil Waye’ series, which eventually only survived for four titles. Between 1930 and 1933 he had an astonishing 22 books published under the three pseudonyms and it is not surprising that one of them was abandoned if his publishers required this rate of output to continue. However there is some evidence that in particular his American publishers were baulking at the sheer number of books he was producing (see Curtis Evans Masters Of The Humdrum Mysteries). Why the Burton titles continued and the Waye books did not is a matter of conjecture, though the former may have been more lucrative since they were published under the Collins Crime Club imprint.
Here, the mystery begins when renowned financier Sir Charles Formby, who has ruined many people through his activities in the City, is fatally poisoned during a channel crossing from France. His son Brian had an obvious motive but absolutely no opportunity and the police investigation soon falters. However, when an infamous rake named Pilkington is found murdered while enjoying a yachting holiday the investigators attentions turn to Sir Hubert Massinghurst, husband of his latest mistress. But again there is plain motive but a cast-iron alibi to frustrate enquiry. Merrion begins to develop a theory that might explain matters, but before he can develop it he unaccountably disappears. When an unsuccessful attempt is made on the life of a notorious blackmailer the police finally get a clue, which leads them towards the perpetrators of all three crimes.
This mystery finds an author still developing the style that was to become an intrinsic part of these books for the next thirty years. Indeed, it was not until Death of Mr. Gantley, the fifth book in the series, that the pieces finally all came together, with Merrion and his long time cohort Inspector Arnold working together, usually in a fictitious rural or seaside location. Here the chief police investigator is again Inspector Young, who had worked with Merrion in the previous book, The Secret Of High Eldersham, and while Arnold appears briefly he is very much a sketchy and secondary character – for instance we are not told his rank. However, the denouement of this mystery leaves Inspector Young determined to leave the police force, paving the way for Arnold to take centre stage in the next book. While the relationship between Merrion and Arnold is always entertainingly fractious and survived for over sixty more books, I have always regretted the loss of Young. He is a competent and level-headed investigator, though it should be said his departure is well-handled and allows Burton to deliver a neat little twist at the conclusion of this book.
Whilst it is in many ways a transitional book, this is a very strong entry in the series and still contains many of the elements which devotees of this author will recognise and admire. Originally published in the rather plain green dustwrapper style which Collins used from approximately 1931-1934 it was reprinted in their 1/- hardback and 6d paperback series in the mid-1930s, this time with a pictorial cover (see above). Notoriously difficult to track down in any edition, it will be a mystery that many would be very pleased to add to their collection. and it is to be hoped that along with the other Burton titles from the period it gets a reprint soon.
Desmond Merrion #2
Preceded by The Secret Of High Eldersham
Succeeded by The Menace On The Downs
No record of any modern reprint, ebook or audiobook has been traced by the reviewer.
First Edition Details
Originally published by Collins Crime Club 1931
Orange Cloth Boards pp 252 + 4pp adverts, 8vo
Title and Author stamped in black on spine. ‘The Crime Club’ stamped in black at bottom.
Title and Author stamped in black on front inside single lined black box.
Dustwrapper priced at 7/6 net on spine.
Originally published by The Crime Club inc. Doubleday, Doran & co.
Priced at $2
R E Faust
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