By Miles Burton
First published: UK, Collins, 1945; US, Doubleday, 1946, as Accidents Do Happen
A rather bizarre book—almost an anti-detective story on the lines of Mary Fitt. There are five murders, one of which turns out to be an accident, and one manslaughter committed before the reader’s eyes in a minor sub-plot—but, although the number of deaths pushes coincidence to its limits, everyone thinks that the deaths are probably accidents, and nobody is suspected until the very end. The murderer is obvious to the reader from the beginning, but isn’t suspected until he goes mad at the end and confesses; unusually, ‘the worst fate that can befall him is detention in a criminal asylum during His Majesty’s pleasure’. Merrion and Arnold barely appear, and do nothing. Merrion’s friend Flotman (a self-portrait of Street) writes him letters.
And yet this is a good book. It’s almost a straight novel with detective interludes, in which events occur according to the story (e.g., SPOILER Fossett killing Rattray) rather than developing as a straightforward detective story.
- Street’s sympathies are with the village, and against the developers.
- Burtons are more relaxed and humorous (village life, eccentric characters) than the Rhodes, which concentrate on the problem and the detection / police procedure.
- Mrs. Horner’s murder (drove car into lake and drowned)—This Undesirable Residence.
Life in the sleepy village of Swinbury Mordayne was tranquil and undisturbed. Folk lived there only to provide material for the epitaphs on their own grave stones, yet this was the place that the novelist Aylmer Flotman had decided to visit in order to seek inspiration for a book. As it happened something did happen, and it started with the death of Lord Barromer, squire of the village, while out riding. That mishap was followed rapidly by even more inexplicable events. In Early Morning Murder Miles Burton tells an excellent story of detection, featuring, of course, Desmond Merrion and Inspector Arnold.
Aylmer Flotman, a successful novelist, was living in a small English village to collect material for a new book. He was getting discouraged, because both character and action were notably absent in the inhabitants of Swinford Mordayne, when a series of accidental deaths occurred to startle the village to life.
It was extremely unfortunate that Lord Barromer should have been kicked to death by a horse just as he was taking legal steps to protect his estate, Barrow Park, from falling into the hands of the “developers”. But even after his death the spectre of a holiday camp continued to loom large, and it meant different things, all of them disagreeable, to various people.
Desmond Merrion, who had been observing the situation through his friend the novelist, insisted that coincidences happen more often in real life than in fiction, but this time he was wrong, because a shrewd mind had decided that accidents do happen, and that if they don’t happen quickly enough, they can be devised.
Observer (Maurice Richardson, 26th August 1945): Miles Burton’s Early Morning Murder is a snuggish country case with two and a half murders, and, I was delighted to find, a total failure by Desmond Merrion and Inspector Arnold. It lacks any distinction, but its story moves along and has a pleasantly soothing quality.
Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 8th September 1945): The motive in Early Morning Murder is out of the ordinary. Mr. Miles Burton describes a corner of the English countryside with pleasing intimacy and his characters are fresh.
NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 27th January 1946, 200w): The plot is ingenious and quite unusual.
Weekly Book Review (Will Cuppy, 27th January 1946, 350w): It’s honest detection without any synthetic science. Desmond Merrion, late of Admiralty Intelligence, answers all questions after mighty sleuthing and some talk about coincidences in real life. He’s one of the better thinkers.