Death at Low Tide (Burton)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Death at Low Tide is not to be confused with Death in Shallow Water (“Inspiration at low ebb” – Barzun & Taylor). This is vintage Burton.

Captain Stanlake, the pushy harbour master of Brenthithe, wanted to turn the holiday resort into a commercial port – to the horror of those who rely on the tourist trade. One evening, his body is pulled out of the water, a bullet in his skull.

This is not one of Street’s most difficult problems; I correctly named murderer and method before Merrion entered the scene on p. 63. (A suspect couldn’t have done it, so obviously must have done it.) Even slower readers should spot the murderer before the end, as Merrion and Arnold’s investigation narrows to a single line of inquiry.

Normally this would be the death-knell for a detective story. (See, for instance, This Undesirable Residence, which the Puzzle Doctor reviewed this morning.) But “Who” was seldom one of Street’s concerns; the lines might be predictable, but the details are fresh.

Divers search the waters around a jetty for evidence; Old Town and New Town come to civil war over Stanlake’s murder; and the book ends with a grisly suicide on a boat. With its visual appeal, it would make an entertaining film. There is too (as Curt Evans points out) more sex than in some of Street’s other books, whether it’s a captain longing for his wife’s “delicious” body, another character’s unhappy marriage, or Inspector Arnold’s ejaculation on seeing Merrion. The sea air obviously did Street good.


1938 Collins

The old ferryman had caught many strange fish in his time, but none so strange as the body he fished out of the harbour one summer evening as the tide was on the turn.  To his horror he saw at once that it was Captain Stanlake, the local harbour-master.  In the few months that Captain Stanlake had been harbour-master at Brenthithe he had made himself a confounded nuisance to every one.  That was perhaps not his fault, but was mainly due to his keen desire to make Brenthithe an industrial port rather than a seaside resort.  He had made many enemies in this local feud, but would any one go as far as murder – for foul play it certainly was.  Death at Low Tide is an enthralling mystery with an attractive setting and an absorbing plot.


Observer (Torquemada, 20th February 1938): There are no real herrings for us in Miles Burton’s otherwise salty Death at Low Tide.  We watch a neatly constructed curtain-raiser which Merrion and Inspector Arnold are not privileged to see.  Not that seeing it would—dare I say it?—have made much difference to the latter.  For Arnold bumbles about in his own way and, as usual, concedes nothing to those methods of his friend which we know well enough are going to clear up his case for him.  Arnold really ought to read the Arnold-Merrion books.  When an unpopular harbour-master is lured in a most novel way to death by booby-trap Merrion uses his imagination to advantage in determining the identity of a certain lady visitor.  When that problem is solved, it is all over but the rather ghastly shouting.  Miles Burton still remains faithful to the Crofts school in his austere refusal to develop a style.

Times Literary Supplement (26th March 1938): The murder of the harbour master of a small West Country port is investigated by Inspector Arnold and his friend Merrion.  This is probably the best work of an author who has already had many brilliant successes.

Edward Shanks in John O’London’s: Miles Burton seems to improve with every book and in Death at Low Tide he gives us an excellent tale of plain detection.

Reynolds: An absorbing plot with intrigue and comedy.

4 thoughts on “Death at Low Tide (Burton)

  1. “the lines might be predictable, but the details are fresh.”

    I think that’s a nice summing up of Street’s work. DEATH AT LOW TIDE is a particular favourite of mine.

    Liked by 2 people

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