Death at the Club (Miles Burton)

By Miles Burton

First published: UK, Collins, 1937; US, Doubleday, 1937, as The Clue of the Fourteen Keys

Very generic, with limited characterization, and no great tricks.

Blurb (UK)

The distinguished members of the Witchcraft Club were greatly concerned when the secretary, Mr. Brockman, failed to arrive for the usual first-Friday-in-the-month meeting.  So unusual were the circumstances that the Assistant Commissioner of Police (one of the Witchcraft Club’s thirteen members) went into an adjoining room to telephone Scotland Yard.  In doing so his foot struck some soft but unyielding object – the body of Mr. Brockman.  This must indeed have been Inspector Arnold’s most embarrassing case, for even his chief, the Assistant Commissioner, was not above suspicion.  If it hadn’t been for Desmond Merrion (who is no respecter of persons when it comes to crime) perhaps the mystery would never have been solved.  Once again Mr. Burton gives his readers an unusual and interesting problem.

Blurb (US)

The author of The Clue of the Silver Cellar and other successful detective stories has created one of his subtlest plots in this mystifying story.  The murder at London’s unique Witchcraft Club involved all twelve of the club’s remaining members, not even excepting an assistant commissioner of police.  This made it an embarrassing case for Inspector Arnold to investigate, and it was only the intervention of his friend Desmond Merrion that brought about the amazing solution.  Merrion arrived at his conclusion through a process of subtle but sound reasoning, but this process would never have been open to him had he not at first discovered the poison that smelled of mice, the locked tantalus and the extra set of fingerprints.  These put him in a position to work the trick of the wax figure and thus solve a murder that seemed destined to remain a mystery.

This is a neat and ingenious mystery story typical of the author’s work and featuring sound detection, excellent characterisation and a satisfactory solution.  Once again Miles Burton proves that he is one of the soundest living craftsmen in his field.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Torquemada, 28th February 1937):

When an Assistant Commissioner belongs to a Witchcraft Club and comes across the body of the murdered secretary in a darkened telephone room, it is not surprising that our old friend Desmond Merrion has to be called in to supplement the efforts of our equally old friend Inspector Arnold to clear up the matter without unpleasant official repercussions.  (Let hex equal why.)  Miles Burton can always be trusted to posit a real problem for his readers, and to give them a fair, unboisterous run for their money.  Death at the Club is good average Burton rather than any exceptional brew.

Times Literary Supplement (Mrs. Elizabeth L. Sturch, 6th March 1937):

Mr. Miles Burton can always be relied on for a good, serious, straightforward detective story with no shilly-shallying and no side-issues to divert the reader’s attention from the all-important task of discovering the murderer.  In Death at the Club his familiar pair of characters are at work again—Inspector Arnold plodding stolidly along, finding out facts and putting the wrong interpretations on them, yet making rather heavy fun of the inspired guesses of that brilliant amateur, Desmond Merrion.

The victim was secretary of a small club—the Witchcraft Club—to which Arnold’s chief at Scotland Yard belonged, and there even seem to be some grounds for suspecting the latter.  The problem is made harder by the appearance of a complication which seems to puzzle the detectives unduly, since the reader is soon able to make a good guess at its explanation; but no fault can be found with the way in which Merrion finally unearths the culprit.

Sat R of Lit (14th August 1937, 40w):

First class.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 15th August 1937, 270w):

In telling the story the author has contrived a pleasing combination of routine police procedure with clever deduction on the part of the amateur without over-stressing the latter or belittling the former and, best of all, without being unfair to the reader.

Boston Transcript (Gertrude Bayley, 18th September 1937, 380w):

While not an especially thrilling tale, full of horror and suspense, Mr. Burton’s new mystery story will perhaps prove the more interesting to readers who enjoy the clear, cold logic of deduction used in solving this case.

Dr. Watson in the Manchester Evening Chronicle:

An extremely good problem story, with a splendid trap at the end.  A book for every fan’s library list.

Glasgow Herald:

Desmond Merrion finds a problem really worthy of his ingenuity.

Aberdeen Press:

The analysing of the evidence is done with fascinating and methodical care.