- By Miles Burton
- First published: UK: Collins, 1956
Every year, Desmond Merrion and his wife Mavis spend their summer at a different seaside resort. (See, for instance, Heir to Lucifer, Ground for Suspicion, Heir to Murder, and Murder Unrecognised.) This year, they visit Greycliffe-on-Sea, where Merrion went to prep school 50 years before. (Rather grim, it seems; two cold baths a week were a luxury!) As always, murder interrupts their vacation; roving young Arthur Harpole, son of Merrion’s school doctor, is … found drowned.
This was Street’s 120-somethingth mystery, so he writes with the ease of an old pro. A maritime murder makes a pleasant holiday for Merrion; he finds the body while out fishing, tests tides by throwing barrels into the sea, and goes for a leisurely 12-mile walk with a thirsty Inspector Arnold, whose tongue hangs out for beer.
Barzun and Taylor complained that the subplots are pedestrian, and the characters colourless. That’s rather harsh. The mystery involves a godfather’s inheritance, and an engagement to the wrong girl; motives include sibling rivalry, or the possibility that Arthur was murdered in mistake for his brother. Nor are the characters so colourless; Street writes sympathetically of a young girl whom her feckless family have bred to marry for money (by Estella out of Micawber).
But the mystery is both disappointing and predictable. Most of the plot turns out to be red herrings, and the solution drags in the Avenger from the Colonies. The murderer is a minor character who, although mentioned, first appears on p. 229, having been caught robbing a shop. The motive involves a “dirty trick” played in Canada, retold over a chapter, in the style of the Holmes novels.
This skilful detective story is set in Greycliffe-on-Sea, a holiday resort in the north of England. Mr. Merrion revisits his old preparatory school in Greycliffe and while reminiscing with the headmaster recalls the school doctor of his own day, a Dr. Harpole—he learns that Harpole’s two sons are still living in Greycliffe. Charles, the eldest, is a master at the school, but Arthur, his younger brother, is a waster, always out of work. One morning Arthur is found drowned and investigation reveals all too many reasons why it should not have been an accident. A marriage, a legacy, old scores and new, provide a tangle of motives, for the police and Merrion to unravel. The seaside town is an effective background for Miles Burton’s cunningly told novel.
Observer (Maurice Richardson, 1st April 1956): Desmond Merrion—did you know he was an Old Wykehamist?—revisits his old preparatory school in Greycliffe-on-Sea which appears to be one in which we may have every confidence. Later he and Inspector Arnold solve the murder of the local doctor’s ne’er-do-well son.
A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): Merrion and his wife spend a holiday at a seaside town where M. went to prep school. One of the two sons of the former school doctor is found floating offshore, and M. does a nice bit of detective work with tides and flow of the local river to show that the body “entered the water” at a town some miles upstream; but the various subplots are pedestrian and B.’s colourless characters too numerous.