By Miles Burton
First published: UK, Collins, 1942; US, Dodd Mead, 1942, as Death at Ash House
Possibly the most tedious Burton I’ve read so far. The plot is more carefully constructed than either Devil’s Reckoning or Death in Shallow Water, but its execution is feeble. The solution is obvious by the end of Chapter 3, so the red herrings stick out as irrelevant padding, and one becomes increasingly impatient with Arnold’s plodding. No Merrion.
Ash House stood empty and deserted just off the main road between the small country town of Wraynesford and the village of Betherston, an attractive looking house that certainly ought to have appealed to any one seeking a desirable country residence. But for over a year Ash House had for some inexplicable reason sought a tenant in vain. And then one morning the gardener was surprised to see a car drawn up at the door and went to welcome the visitor. But the contents of the car provided him with a disagreeable shock. The occupant was dead. And so began the tremendous hue and cry which was to engage the attention of Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard for many days.
Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 16th May 1942): “Good letter home” describes Mr. Burton’s style, but that is forgotten once his story gets started. Though all the characters, police and gypsies included, converse like a Dorcas circle, their quaintness detracts little from the interest. From the moment a corpse is found in a car outside the empty house, slowly increasing momentum grips. Mr. Burton makes you feel the bearing of one grim event upon another without giving you an inkling of what it is. Lanes and fields, house, shed and pond, raspberry canes and gypsy encampment, form a drowsy background of English country life which admirably sets off the ruthless activities of some person unknown with a Nazi—as Mr. Churchill pronounces it—mind.
Sat R of Lit (28th November 1942, 30w): Acceptable.
Books (Will Cuppy, 29th November 1942, 280w): Here’s one of those comforting British detective tales with plenty of clues laid out before your goggling eyes and no nonsense—the rare kind in which the reader can participate, as it were, and see what it gets you. A certain trick, not brand new but successfully worked, adds a whopping surprise toward the end, adding a kick to the intensive deducing and bringing another blue ribbon to Miles Burton.
NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 13th December 1942, 120w): Miles Burton has written some excellent detective tales, but this one does little to enhance his reputation.