Situation Vacant (Miles Burton)

By Miles Burton

First published: UK, Collins, 1946

Typical Burton: village setting; double murder; and Merrion and Arnold to the fore once again. Red herrings include drug trafficking, confidence trickery, blackmail and arson, all within the confines of one small parish, with a wicked witch, fishberries, an Aga stove, and a missing tin box complicating matters. The murderer’s identity is surprisingly well-kept for the singularly small number of suspects, and nearly poisons Merrion. However, it is not altogether convincing that such an incompetent person could execute such an ingenious crime.

Blurb (UK)

Mr. Green was seriously put out.  His daughter Iris had left home at half-past four to fetch her handbag, which she had left at Mrs. Whyttington’s where she did part-time secretarial work, and here it was past six and she had not yet returned.  Who was to get his tea, he’d like to know?  But Iris would never get him a meal again, nor give reluctant help behind the counter in her father’s chemist shop, for Iris was dead.  Her body is found the next day floating in a sluice not far from her employer’s house.  It seems that in the October dusk she must have lost her footing on the narrow planking which bridged the sluice; and “accidental death” is the official verdict at the inquest.  But when three months later Iris’s successor as secretary to Mrs. Whyttington is found dead in most suspicious circumstances, and once again the situation becomes vacant, things begin to take on rather a different complexion and Scotland Yard is called in.  It needs all Inspector Arnold’s talent for patient plodding inquiry, assisted by the lively imagination and brilliant powers of deduction of his friend Desmond Merrion to solve a mystery that must surely be one of the most ingenious that Miles Burton has ever evolved for our entertainment.

Contemporary reviews

John O’London’s Weekly (Evelyn Banks, 6th September 1946): In Situation Vacant, by Miles Burton, the guilty party gets in no more than two murders before being found out by Inspector Arnold and Desmond Merrion.  I should add that poison is used in all these stories.  Mr. [Douglas G.] Browne [in Too Many Cousins] and Mr. Burton get full marks for the unusual but effective ones they have chosen.