By Miles Burton
First published: UK, Collins, 1948; US, Doubleday (abridged)
One of Burton’s weakest entries. The set-up is excellent: a village steeped in black magic, an aristocratic vicar and his wayward wife (whose corpse turns up on the family tomb), and a neat tying-in of local legend. Unfortunately detection is virtually non-existent, the murderer obvious (a least likely person), and the solution is so miserably slender that one’s enjoyment instantly disintegrates. Shame.
It was the custom and time-honoured privilege of Mrs. Bale, a cottager in the remote English village of Dellmead, to decorate the church for Sunday worship. One Saturday afternoon when busying herself with her flowers and water-can she is shocked to see revealed by the mellow October sunshine the figure of a strange woman reclining on the slab of a canopied tomb where, according to tradition, had once lain a carved effigy. Boiling with indignation at this desecration, Mrs. Bale advances and shakes the recumbent figure, only to realise with horror that the woman is dead. But that is only the first of many tragic happenings in a case that runs curiously parallel to an old local legend; a case that is to baffle even the keen brain of Desmond Merrion and sorely try the patience of the unimaginative Inspector Arnold before it reaches a satisfactory conclusion.
Observer (Maurice Richardson, 29th August 1948): Devil’s Reckoning is another of Miles Burton’s village murder cases. It creaks a bit and includes a cackling drug fiend and a red herring of black magic.
NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 6th February 1949, 140w): Miles Burton has succeeded in blending the past and the present in an absorbing tale which holds the interest even after the reader has begun to suspect the identity of the murderer.
Sat R of Lit (12th February 1949, 50w): Adroitly constructed plot, blithe sleuths, and ample dirty work midst moors and spookish ruins.