Not a Leg to Stand On (Miles Burton)

By Miles Burton

First published: UK, Collins, 1945; US, Doubleday, 1945

A good disappearance case, with artificial legs and vanishing idols popping up all over the place, while burglary and a mysterious fiancée complicate matters. Merrion is better company than Arnold, who is grumpy and sarcastic, although Arnold is perhaps brighter than Merrion. The solution is quite clever, with a neat variation on the disposal of the body. The reader should be onto the murderer as soon as the corpse is discovered.  Slow, though; I broke off halfway through to refresh myself with a Gladys Mitchell.

Blurb (UK)

If Mr. Methwold had been the sort of man given to flights of fancy, Superintendent Guntly would have been inclined to dismiss his story as fantastic.  But Mr. Methwold enjoyed a sober, well-earned reputation as a solicitor in the little market town of Raynethorpe and when he claimed that his young friend and client Edmund Coulston had disappeared after telling Mr Methwold that he was afraid of being robbed, the Superintendent is obliged to take action.  Edmund Coulston had been staying with Mr. Methwold for a few days before sailing for America, and Mr. Methwold had last seen him the evening before he reported his disappearance to the police, when he had left him at the gates of “Orinoco,” a neighbour’s house.  And there, just inside the gates, the Superintendent finds sufficient evidence to justify calling in the Yard.  Inspector Arnold, accompanied by his friend Desmond Merrion, comes down to take charge, and an excellent job they make of it.

Blurb (US)

In Raynethorpe, a placid market town of some seven thousand souls, the story the solicitor told the superintendent of police was quite incredible.  It concerned Edmund Coulston, his artificial leg, and the ruby-eyed gold idol which he had inherited from a rich relative.  Edmund had come to Raynethorpe to seek sanctuary at the solicitor’s, haunted by the feeling that he was being pursued.  Three days before he was to sail for America, Edmund Coulston disappeared along with his idol.

The superintendent followed the trail to where it stopped abruptly in a gloomy wood called, appropriately enough, Dead Man’s Spinney.  The finding of Edmund’s battered, bloody hat and his artificial leg warranted a visit by Inspector Arnold of the Yard and his friend, Desmond Merrion, late of Naval Intelligence.  Both set to work on their separate theories and proved eventually what had been felt all along, that a man cannot go far without a leg to stand on.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 18th February 1945): Mr. Miles Burton is in good form in Not a Leg to Stand On.  This is a neat country town disappearance case with a genuinely startling solution, the discovery of which gives Roger Merrion a slight attack of megalomania.

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 24th February 1945): While digging for a body the detectives in Mr. Burton’s latest book unearth an artificial limb.  After that there is always a possibility of the owner’s return with a new one, although so experienced an author is not likely to permit himself anything so obvious.  It is the provocative beginning of a lively tale about a resourceful criminal with new ideas about a branch of human activity (meaning murder) concerning which critics said years ago that it had yielded up all its secrets.

Sat R of Lit (30th June 1945, 40w): A sound problem, well presented and painstakingly worked out—in the dogged British style which sometimes leaves one rather cold.

Weekly Book Review (Will Cuppy, 1st July 1945, 150w): An entertaining item of the mildly brain-cudgelling sort.  Hardly up to this author’s standard, but readable all the way.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 8th July 1945, 120w): The plot is ingenious, but the story lags in the telling.