Death of Mr. Gantley (Miles Burton)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

An early Burton (his fifth) and one of his very best. It has all the right ingredients of the early 1930s (amateur detective vying with competent professional policemen, inheritance hinging on survivorship à la The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, exemplary reasoning from physical clues (footprints and tyre tracks) in the manner of Doyle or Connington (note Inspector Driffield), and messing about in boats). Merrion is competent, Arnold intelligent (and enamoured), and the solution is extremely ingenious, not least in the way in which the murderer defeats his own plans. Unfortunately the murderer does not feature particularly largely in the story, so his identity is not as interesting as it should be.

I think this is one of the three excellent Burtons I’ve read; the other two are Murder, M.D. (the first one I ever read, and, unfortunately, I’ve never read one which quite measures up) and The 3 Corpse Trick. I associate Gantley with the ColesMan from the River and the Detection Club’s Floating Admiral – it has the same holiday atmosphere, and a good plot, and comes close to classic status for the period (late 20s to early 30s, before the mid-30s explosion of Carr, Christie, Blake, Mitchell and Marsh, who continued Sayers‘s work of humanising the detective story). My one problem with Gantley is the murderer hardly appears, although this is more satisfying than a lot of Street novels, where the murderer is only mentioned by name in the last couple of chapters (In Face of the Verdict, Death at the Inn, The Motor Rally Mystery, the dreadful Milk-Churn Murders).

Blurb (UK)

Mr. Gantley, owner of the Downhamshire Courier, is found dead in his car one Monday morning not far from his native town of Carnford.  He had been shot through the head.  Lady Gantley, Gantley’s sister-in-law, had died suddenly from a heart attack on the Saturday evening, and from her will it appeared that in the event of her death preceding that of Gantley her fortune shall go to her niece and nephew, Charles and Myrtle Harrington.  If Gantley died first then her fortune should go to her companion, Sylvia Chadwick, and her brother Percy.  Both Inspector Driffield, who is a local man, and Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard are baffled by the crime.  A lucky meeting with Desmond Merrion brings that skilled investigator into the case, to which he eventually succeeds in supplying a brilliant and surprising solution.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (3rd March 1932): The proprietor of a West Country newspaper is found shot through the head in his wrecked car on a lonely road, halfway between the town of Carnford and the house-boat where he was accustomed to spend his week-ends.  Two days before, his sister-in-law had died suddenly in London from a heart attack.  Their respective wills are interdependent upon the time of each other’s death.  The police had every reason to think that Mr. Gantley had died later than the old lady, and the police surgeon did, in fact, confirm this from his examination of the post-mortem stains on Gantley’s body.  But there were several disturbing features connected with the crime.  Who, for instance, stole two bicycles?  Did the same person make off with Gantley’s spare suit?  And why was there a stone on the floor of the car?  Was it true that a farm labourer had heard the fatal shot?  These difficult questions are finally answered by the police, with the help of Desmond Merrion, one of the more sympathetic amateurs of detective fiction.  Mr. Burton’s topographical descriptions are excellent, and his dialogue convincing.

Sydney Morning Herald (25th March 1932): Medical evidence is of first importance in Death of Mr. Gantley, a detective story by Miles Burton, who makes the most of a rather too ingenious murderer.  Once more Scotland Yard is “baffled” by the strange sequence of events which occurred between the last appearance of Mr. Gantley and the discovery of his body in a car on a lonely road.  Matters are further complicated by the provisions of his will, and it requires the truly remarkable deductive powers of Desmond Merrion to bring the murderer to book.