The Moth-Watch Murder (Miles Burton)

By Miles Burton

First published: UK, Collins, 1957

Very good indeed, particularly considering Catalogue of Crime’s unenthusiastic review.

When I started the book, I had very low expectations.  I thought the dialogue was ponderous and mechanical, and that it was obvious that SPOILER Rose Bolventor was an impostor and a murderess, and that Christie had managed the same device better in A Murder is Announced.

I was wrong.

The story picks up dramatically a third of the way through, with the second murder and a good bit of deduction from river currents and timetables to work out when and where the victim entered the water.  The third murder is even better, and must rank as one of the best surprises in Street—the person I suspected of the murder was poisoned.  The solution is very Christieish, with a well-hidden killer—both surprising and properly inevitable, rather than the usual arbitrary, under-motivated criminal of Street’s late work—and a complicated, well-clued plot involving SPOILER impersonation.  Not a classic, but definitely one of the better Burtons.

Is the bottom of p. 113 fair?

  • One of Arnold’s more ridiculous theories: schoolboy put cyanide in sandwich as joke, or victim ate it to see what it tasted like (at 16 years old?)—as unconvincing as snakes in Look Alive

·        Lesbian couple

Blurb (UK)

When a party of schoolboys assembles on a moth-watching party, the occasion turns out to be fatal not only to the moths.  What is the explanation of the ruthless and deliberate killing of a normal, cheerful schoolboy whom everyone liked?  Inspector Ferrilby realises that in this unusual puzzle he will need the help of Scotland Yard, and he is additionally pleased when Desmond Merrion turns up to assist in the investigation.  Before long the police find themselves with a further mystery on their hands, when the body of a woman is found floating in the river.  All the clues in the possession of the police only seem to deepen the mystery.  The investigation is about to be abandoned when a third death, more dramatic and startling even than the others, opens the way to a surprising solution.

No writer can weave a mystery more neatly than Miles Burton, and only a reader with an unusually keen eye for the hidden clues will succeed in unravelling this one before the author is ready with the exciting revelations that fit everything into its appropriate place.  Mr. Burton’s ingenuity is as subtle and satisfying as ever.

Contemporary reviews

Yorkshire Evening Post: The plot is neat and ends with a dramatic twist.