By Miles Burton
First published: UK, Collins, 1940; US, Doubleday, 1940
A good story, ably investigated by Inspector Arnold and the amateur armchair detective Desmond Merrion. Although the murderer’s identity is obvious before the halfway mark, there is a great deal of pleasure to be derived from seeing how the various parts fit in – and, until the end, I could not work out how the body was transferred into the box. There is some well-constructed tracing of the history of the box in which the corpse was found; legal complications caused by the dead man’s missing will; and an ingenious alibi.
Mr. Westerby was keen on birds—sparrows and that sort of thing; he was, in fact, an inoffensive ornithologist and the last man in the world to have been involved in a mystery. For mystery certainly surrounded his disappearance at ten o’clock on a November evening with a considerable sum of money in his possession. Inspector Arnold found it a puzzling case. A straightforward murder was all right. But the case of Mr. Westerby was different. He might have been murdered; he might have met with an accident; he might have committed suicide; or he might still be alive. And so, without clues, Arnold gets to work on this amazing case.
John Westerby had always preferred his own company to that of anyone else. It was this peculiarity which made it extremely difficult for Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard to get any relevant facts concerning Westerby or his actions on the night he disappeared. Apparently he had stepped out of the tavern in the village, started for his little cottage and vanished. His niece and his nephew had not heard from him, his housekeeper did not expect him back – he was gone. But he reappeared in an extremely unconventional manner, and his reappearance did not make the case any easier. Just how could he have gotten from the point of his disappearance to the point of his reappearance, and just what could account for the metamorphosis which he had undergone, had poor Arnold jumping around from one part of England to another, completely baffled and ready to believe in pixies, or something.
It was Desmond Merrion, Arnold’s unofficial assistant, as usual, who went to work on the theoretical side of it, and beginning at Z worked back to A. When he finally proved his theory Arnold grudgingly admitted that there might be something in being psychic after all.
Observer (Maurice Richardson, 7th July 1940): Another of Mr. Burton’s sound patient investigations. Not many suspects in Mr. Westerby Missing—some shady relatives and a fierce quarrel—but the evidence has to be worked over very carefully in order to break down a cast-iron alibi. Thoroughly safe recommendation.
Sat R of Lit (22nd June 1940, 40w): Complicated mechanism used by Merrion to establish criminal’s guilt may seem inconclusive to some addicts. Otherwise an outstanding British baffler. Good.
Books (will Cuppy, 23rd June 1940, 200w): Here’s another first-rate British offering in Miles Burton’s best vein… Don’t skip this, if you are keeping up with significant murders.
NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 23rd June 1940, 180w): Miles Burton has written many good mystery stories, and this is one of his best.
Boston Transcript (Marian Wiggin, 6th July 1940, 120w): It is a calm, slightly obvious mystery, refreshing in that without ever meeting Mr. Westerby you become really quite fond of him.