This marvellous series continues to beguile. Another two titles which I have read over the last few days and hugely enjoyed.
Miles Burton's real name was Cecil John Charles Street. Born in 1884 in Gibraltar and awarded the Military Cross during his army service, he turned to writing. His first pen name was John Rhode and was so astonishingly productive that the books written under this name risked flooding the market. So he then created the alter ego of Miles Burton.
The two books reviewed here feature Merrion 'Brilliant and brave, wealthy yet charming, possessing luxurious rooms in Mayfair and a devoted sidekick called Newport'. This description will sound very familiar to Golden Age crime readers.....
Samuel Whitehead, landlord of the Rose and Crown and a newcomer to the village of High Eldersham is discovered by the local constable, stabbed to death in his own pub. Scotland Yard are called to the scene and it soon becomes clear that the villagers have a secret to hide and are hostile to strangers. DI Young forms a theory about the case so utterly impossible that he begins to doubt his own sanity and calls in Merrion to assist him. His theory is not dismissed by his friend who sets about trying to unravel the sinister happenings in High Eldersham which are also linked to undercover drug smuggling.
All this takes place in an atmosphere of mistrust and murkiness: "The moon was just setting, casting a pale and uncertain light upon the flat country over which a low steamy mist was creeping slowly from the sea. Above the mist stood out the tall tops of the trees, and below him, in the village, the summit of the church tower. All else was hidden, wrapped in mystery and silence."
In contrast to the above, this is a much more straightforward mystery. I say straightforward though it becomes hideously complicated by the time the solution is revealed, but I am using this word as it is more an uncovering of clues and solid police work rather than the slightly macabre events in the Secret of High Eldersham.
Sir Wilfred Saxonby is travelling alone in a carriage on the 5pm train from Cannon Street, in a locked compartment. The train driver slams on his brakes when he arrives at tunnel having seen a red light ahead. By the time the red light turns to green and the train emerges from the tunnel Sir Wilfred has been shot dead, his heart pierced by a single bullet. It looks like suicide but of course, we the reader, know that it is not. There was no reason for Sir Wilfred to kill himself and Inspector Arnold of the Yard who, like DI Young above, seems to have Merrion as a friend, calls him in.
There are so many twists and turns in the unveiling of the conspiracy to murder Sir Wilfred that I got a trifle bogged down in places, the ingenuity and cunning of the resolution being almost impossible for the reader to detect for themselves. I will say, with hand on heart, that I guessed who had done it, but I had no idea why. I just plumped for this character right from the beginning. I have read too many detective stories it seems.....
So two more gems and, as ever, with the stylised covers that are so attractive and will catch the eye of anybody browsing in a bookshop. The number of authors to be discovered seems almost limitless and all fans of detection will be delighted that this series has been so successful.
Long may it continue.