By Miles Burton
First published: UK, Collins, 1953
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.)
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.
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.