By Miles Burton
First published: UK, Collins, 1948
The plot concerns not so much an epidemic of drowning in an English village as one of stupidity. None of the characters seem to possess any intellectual faculties: after three people (an irascible shipowner, his amusingly selfish wife, and an eremitical handyman) all drown in shallow water, the local Superintendent still believes in accident, and is quite content to believe that hair lotions usually contain chloroform until this error is pointed out to him by his slightly less dense constable (or perhaps not less, for he believes the fourth drowning is an accident). He should take comfort that he is not alone in his witlessness, for Burton’s usual pair are well below par: rather than detecting, Arnold makes up preposterous theories and takes deep whiffs of chloroform without any noticeable effect (we shall forbear from commenting on his customary mental state), and Merrion, onstage for fifteen pages, pulls the solution out of a hat after laying a trap for a villain (obvious from page 76) who is quite content to drown half the village without any fear of arousing suspicion, since chloroform appears to leave no trace.
Three deaths by drowning within the space of a few weeks in one small English parish where nothing untoward has happened for many years are bound to set tongues wagging. One drowned body could have been accident, two drowned bodies might have been coincidence; but when it came to a third corpse found in shallow water, even the cautious village policeman began to think it was a bit of a rum go. Soon the experts are called in, and we meet again Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard and, inevitably, Desmond Merrion, his complement and friend, in an investigation that gets “curiouser” and “curiouser” as accident begins to look more and more like Murder.