By the time that this, the tenth mystery published by C. J. C. Street using the ‘Miles Burton’ pseudonym, was published in 1934 he had firmly settled on the formula that he was to utilise for the remainder of this series – more than fifty further mysteries. Desmond Merrion, ex-naval officer and amateur sleuth, had appeared in six previous books and Detective Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard in five (and had also been mentioned by name in two others) but it was only when the two first appeared as a team in the 1931 title Death of Mr Gantley that Burton finally had the combination that would serve him so well, and by the time of the publication of this book they had already appeared together in four high-quality mysteries.
Mr Miles Burton finds his mysteries in quiet country places. His characters are the rustic types that congregate in village tap-rooms to discuss the vagaries of the weather and the price of beer, and to exhibit their powers at the truly national game of darts. But even in such a community murder may rear its ugly head. So it happened that the little village of Wroughton found itself in the news, following the strange death of a rustic found dead in a charabanc returning from a village outing.
Advert in Collins Crime Club magazine, Spring 1934
Here, in another of Burton’s classic rural mysteries, our two sleuths are summoned to investigate the murder of the parsimonious Tom Pewtar, a secretive old man who had occasionally boasted of his hidden wealth. When he is found dead following the annual outing of the local darts club and the police discover his cottage has been broken into and ransacked on the same night they believe that the motive is plain – murder in order to obtain his hidden hoard. The guilt would seem to lie somewhere among his ten fellow passengers – but unfortunately they completely fail to prove a case against any of them. Merrion, whose age we learn is 45 at the time of this mystery, has doubts that the murder and burglary are linked in the way the police believe and begins to evolve other theories, aided by information gathered from the dead man’s niece and a blind man who was among the party. When he uncovers the story of a young man seen with the victim on the evening he died he is soon on the right track, an endeavour which involves delving deep into the victims past and uncovering a totally different motive for the murder and burglary. For help he engages the assistannce of his artistic friend Karslake, who becomes the victim of an attack after making enquiries on Merrion’s behalf.
Inspector Arnold, who often takes the role of pouring cold water on his colleagues conjectures in these mysteries, is as usual unconvinced by Merrion’s flights of fancy and takes a great deal of persuading before he accepts Merrion’s theory. However, when another murder takes place even the sceptical Arnold begins to see the light and the investigators undertake a journey that takes them all over the country in order to apprehend the culprits, who are attempting to evade justice.
Critics of Street have often accused him of being little more than a hack, churning out intriguing plots but lacking any real qualities in his writing and the sheer weight of his output is often used as evidence for that opinion. But the first few chapters of this mystery belie that view, with some very well observed descriptions of local village life and character. Although this is not maintained throughout the book as the momentum of the plot takes over, the mystery aspect is well constructed enough to retain the reader’s interest all the way through. This is another quality offering from the height of the golden age and almost impossible to find. I have been collecting Burton for nearly twenty years and have never seen a copy for sale, so if anyone lucky enough to own one wants to part with it for a good price please let me know! Regardless, any reader lucky enough to unearth a copy will find the effort handsomely rewarded. And in the meantime, devotees like myself can dream about a comprehensive reprinting campaign.
Desmond Merrion/Inspector Arnold #8
Preceded by Death At The Crossroads
Succeeded by To Catch A Thief
No record of any modern reprint, ebook or audiobook has been traced by the reviewer.
First Edition Details
Originally published by Collins Crime Club 1934
Orange Cloth Boards pp 252, 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.
Dustwrapper priced at 7/6 net on spine.
Originally published by The Crime Club inc. Doubleday, Doran & co., 1934
Priced at $2
R E Faust
Please leave any comment, corrections or suggestions below.
[…] Succeeded by The Charabanc Mystery […]
Oh, if only… I do think there’s scope for a mass Burton reprinting although the inconsistency of lead characters in the early books are actually a bit of a hindrance. Are these Merrion books? Then why isn’t he in book 2 (or is it 3)? Or indeed in at least one wartime book?
I do enjoy the Burton books in general more than the Rhode ones – I much prefer the Merrion/Arnold camaraderie than Waghorn with occasional interjections from Priestley. There’s a similar to and fro with Bathurst and MacMorran in some of the Brian Flynn books, but MacMorran is never quite appears as regularly as Arnold. Or ever solves a case himself…
LikeLiked by 1 person
[…] Preceded by The Charabanc Mystery […]