Death Takes a Detour (Burton)

Rating: 2 out of 5.

On August Bank Holiday, the little hamlet of Brensford Street is flooded. The locals are trapped in their houses; travellers caught in the storm are forced to take refuge; and local farmers watch their crops washed away. Next morning, when the waters have subsided, unpopular Donald Carswell is found strangled up at the Hall. Was he killed because of his involvement in forgery, or because he was a foreign agent? Or is the solution more prosaic?

Death Takes a Detour is a Burton I’d always wanted to read, for some reason. Barzun and Taylor aren’t enthusiastic: “The first part of this rural tale is very engrossing, as is the size of the river, which floods ten square miles and forces various people to spend the night at unscheduled stops and to sally forth at midnight on errands undeclared.  About the middle, everything begins to disintegrate: the evildoers turn out inconsequential, and the murderer and his actual deed are a great letdown.”

But the idea of a mystery set in a flooded village appealed. Unfortunately, Detour is soggy and water laden. I’d expected a typical Burton mystery: solid, adequately (at least) characterised, events seen from the perspective of some of the locals, with two or three murders. Instead, this is more of a police procedural; Inspector Arnold hunts down a gang of forgers.

Worse, this is one of those Street novels where the murderer only appears at the end. The culprit isn’t named, and doesn’t step on page until the second last chapter. The “crime” turns out to be manslaughter, completely unrelated to Carswell’s criminal activities or to the flood – a waste of a good situation.

“The equation of which X was the unknown factor, has been solved with satisfaction to all concerned – except, of course, those languishing in gaol.” And, one might add, the reader.


Inspector Arnold and Desmond Merrion have tackled many curious and difficult cases in their time but never one which led them on a longer and more puzzling trail than the death of Donald Carswell.  It began when a sudden summer flood swept down on Brensford and marooned visitors and inhabitants alike in the attics and top floors of their houses.  Before the waters had gone down a killer had struck.  It was the odd behaviour of so many of the suspects which first began to puzzle the man from the Yard and his friend.  Each theory they tested seemed to point to a criminal activity—but none of them seemed to point to a murderer.

Arnold’s steady determination and Merrion’s fertile imagination make the two a formidable team.  But in Death Takes a Detour they need to use all their ingenuity and resource to untangle an absorbing and complex case of the sort for which Miles Burton is famous.

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