Mr. Babbacombe Dies (Miles Burton)

By Miles Burton

First published: UK, Collins, 1939

Shows Street trying to develop characterization, with a more domestic murder.  Very talky, though; most of the story is conveyed through dialogue.

Blurb (UK)

When Mr. Babbacombe, having made his pile, retired, it was unfortunate that his quiet bachelor existence should be marred by attacks of gastritis.  It was fortunate that before succumbing to a particularly bad attack, he expressed a wish to be cremated.  The stringent formalities necessary for cremation require the calling in of another doctor who in this case happened to be a police surgeon.  He suspected arsenic, and Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard was summoned.  Mr. Babbacombe Dies is a very ingenious mystery, which is solved by the admirable use of sheer common sense.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Percy Ashley, 15th July 1939): Two of the novels under review this week, the first and the last [A Door Closed Softly by Alice Campbell], make play with the fact that when a cremation is required the death certificate has to be signed by two doctors.  In the first novel this requirement leads to the discovery of a murder; and in the second a Harley Street specialist, who is also an amateur criminal, induces a seedy confrère to give an innocent signature so that in this case a murder is concealed.  These are perhaps the two most obvious variations on this theme, although others are conceivable, and the authors are to be congratulated on making good use of an uncommon device.


Mr. Miles Burton’s story, apart from this method of the discovery of the crime, deals with a fairly familiar situation.  An irascible old gentleman with plenty of money and a host of impecunious relatives suddenly dies, apparently by gastritis but in reality of arsenic poisoning.  Desmond Merrion, that ingenious amateur detective who took no part in his friend Inspector Arnold’s last case, here reappears as the star, for not only is he a personal friend of the victim and of one of the victim’s relatives, but he resolves the crime and traps the murderer.  The character of the victim, a self-made man who despises his aristocratic but lazy relations, is on the whole well drawn, if slightly inconsistent.  He tells Merrion, for example, that he likes people to stand up to him, but he dismisses a man who does; and he expresses his disapproval of those who do not make their own way in life, yet he leaves his unsuccessful family half his money.  The chief defect of the story is that from which most of Mr. Burton’s novels suffer—namely, that even the most inexperienced reader is enabled to spot the murderer long before the detectives can.  Mr. Burton’s novels are always carefully written, accurate and readable, and often they contain an original murder method (though not in this case).  They could easily stake a claim to be included in the first ranks of detective fiction if only the murderer did not so invariably disclose himself with his first bow.