Heir to Murder (Miles Burton)

By Miles Burton

First published: UK, Collins, 1953


3 stars

Burton - Heir to Murder.jpg

On a wet November night, Dr. Murford drives his car off a pier into Carmouth harbour. A week or so later, Nurse Penruddock is found at the bottom of a cliff. Both had been named principal heir by Lady Violet Vernham of Dragonscourt (a friendly dragon). More outrages follow: one man is shot at; another has a nasty fall from his bike.

Desmond Merrion is at hand. While his wife recovers at the health resort, he chums up with Lady Violet – and makes a “perfect fool” of himself. (Mavis even suggests divorce on grounds of crass stupidity.)

Inspector Arnold and the local police even suspect Merrion of the crimes. No sooner does he turn up than the murders begin. Coincidence?

Heir to Murder is pleasant, undemanding fare. The plot’s simple (who wants to bump off the heirs?), without any twists, and there’s no particular ingenuity. The first murder is, as you’d expect from Street, clever, but the experienced reader should spot whodunnit without any great difficulty. That particular dodge wouldn’t take in a child of six; it’s heir-brained to try it. (Yes, folks, I had to get it in somehow.)


Blurb

The fishing port of Carmouth was a health resort on the South West coast, but for two of the inhabitants at least it was to prove the opposite of healthy.  First Dr. Murford, then his partner, Nurse Penruddock, fell victims to fatal accidents of a highly suspicious nature.  Desmond Merrion, who has brought his wife Mavis to Carmouth for a rest cure, has ample time and more than enough inclination to interest himself in the double tragedy.  It becomes increasingly obvious that if it was murder no stranger to Carmouth could have possessed the necessary local knowledge that could give the deaths the aspect of accident.  With Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard to put a rein on his fertile imagination, and to keep a watchful eye on his sometimes unorthodox methods, Merrion succeeds not only in solving a tricky puzzle but in preventing further murders.


Criticism

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 17th May 1953):

Desmond Merrion, cosy and consequential as ever (“I am greatly complimented that you should care to do so,” he gravely replies when old family friend Lady Violet asks if she may call him Desmond), on holiday at one of those dangerous south-west health resorts, investigates neat murders of a doctor and a nurse.  Snugly, if a trifle fustily, satisfying.

 

A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989):

Burton was to go on writing in a similar vein for seven or eight years after this but was already well past his prime.  (So was Merrion’s wife, apparently, for she is at the resort of Carmouth for a “cure”.)  Nevertheless there is some interest in the four crimes, the first achieving the death of the local medico while “reversing his car” on a pier, and all four were planned by a fairly obvious villain to secure a reversion of another kind.  Supt. Arnold not in evidence.

6 thoughts on “Heir to Murder (Miles Burton)

  1. Very nice to see a new post by you, Nick! I’m always happy to read your criticism, even of unremarkable Rhode/Burton fare. Hope you are well.

    Off topic, but you can probably recall your suggestion: Some months ago in the GAD Facebook group I had mentioned reading a Michael Innes story collection, and you recommended many intriguing novel titles. Most I knew by reputation — Lament for a Maker; Hamlet, Revenge! — but you suggested one that sounded amazing that I had not recognized at all. If I remember, it was either the strange setting or the curious plot that you briefly described that appealed to me. Alas, I don’t recall any details besides being intrigued by it.

    So, of the Innes books you like, is there one (relatively obscure yet flashily odd) that might meet the description? It’s entirely my fault that I didn’t make note of it at the time. And if you want to email me with your thoughts, that’s fine too. Best wishes — JH

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    1. Thanks, Jason!

      Obscure but amazing Michael Innes novels? Three come to mind:

      Stop Press – in which a fictional character apparently comes to life and terrorizes his creator. Innes’s longest, densest novel; has the Friends of the Venerable Bede (arms dealers) and a brilliant parody of Jude the Obscure.

      From London Far – middle-aged academic falls through trapdoor into murder and art smuggling. Favourite character: the psychologist who believes furniture vans have abducted him to instruct them in sexology; as the plot becomes ever wilder, he dismisses it as psychosexual hallucinations.

      A Night of Errors – a phantasmagoria on identical triplets and charred bodies, with nods to both the Bard and Eliot

      Then there are:

      The Daffodil Affair, in which the hunt for a schizophrenic girl and a mind-reading horse take Appleby up the Amazon; has a proto-Bond villain who wants to harness the power of superstition, and a famous scene where Innes casually shatters the fourth wall

      and

      Appleby’s End, a mad riot of Wilkie Collins spoofs, bucolic lovemaking, and severed heads as rewritten by Gilbert and Sullivan, then rewritten again by Stella Gibbons.

      Innes at his best is wonderful. He’s a writer I hope you’ll love; he can be as delightfully stylish, clever, and idiosyncratic as Mitchell at hers.

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    2. Innes seems to be an acquired taste these days, though, and I’m not sure he’ll recover his popularity. He wrote for a hyper-literate, educated audience, with a relish for fantasy, whimsy, wordplay, and ideas. Those who want the detective problem, and nothing but the problem, often find him irritating. He certainly has more in common with Mervyn Peake (You’ve read Gormenghast, haven’t you? Tell me you have!), Borges, or Umberto Eco than with, say, Rhode or Crofts.

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    3. Oh, yes! And his university novels Death at the President’s Lodging and The Weight of the Evidence are great fun.

      Lodging was his first novel; Dr. Umpleby is shot, his corpse found in a private ossory. Lots of alibis and false solutions to argue that “truth” depends on where one stands. Quietly brilliant.

      Weight partly reworks Lodging. This is the one where an asteroid falls on a recumbent don. Plot involves false beards, mazes, and Dickens; solution a slight anti-climax.

      I *must* reread Innes. When I was in high school, he was one of my favourite detective writers, with Mitchell (of course), Carr, Chesterton, Christie, Crispin, Blake; possibly Bailey and Berkeley and Sayers and Van Dine, too. Those were the days when I expected to write detective stories myself, of course.

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  2. Ah, I knew you would come through with great recommendations! I’m sure it was Stop Press that had initially piqued my interest in the earlier conversation; Golden Age Detection doesn’t often dip into meta-concept; literary allusions are easier to find, from Chesterton to Mitchell to Innes. I also remember your mention of A Night of Errors; since a little of Shakespeare’s twins (and Plautus’s, come to that) goes a long way, I may try that eventually.

    From London Afar and The Daffodil Affair are both titles unfamiliar and unknown to me, and your descriptions make me curious indeed. I will need to mix in one more Innes before the year’s out, but my to-read list continues to spiral out of control. (The final unread Richard Hull titles, more George Milner, and a brave foray into the potentially/unintentionally hysterical world of James Corbett with The Merrivale Mystery are all in my sights.)

    Thanks again for the information. Hope you find your revisit of Innes as rewarding as the first time around.

    And yes: Titus Groan and Gormenghast were seminal experiences, discovered around the same time I picked up the Virago paperback of The Rising of the Moon by some author named Gladys Mitchell from a bargain bin in 1998. Haven’t managed Titus Alone yet, and would prefer to read the first two again than push through the third…

    Cheers!

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  3. Not sure why all my first-paragraph punctuation turned into semi-colons, but it’s still comprehensible, I suppose! Just think of it as a very easy cypher for the grammatically punctilious.

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