Death Paints A Picture by Miles Burton

death-paints-a-pictureGeorge Hawken was a quiet unassuming old man. He lived in the fishing village of Port Bosun in Cornwall, whiling away his time. Sometimes, he would go to the nearby cliff-top and paint. Sometimes those paintings would be sold for a bit of money. The days passed and nothing seemed to change. Until the day that he didn’t come back from the cliff-top…

George was found at the bottom of the cliff – an accident, a suicide or murder? No one seemed to have a motive for killing him, but a strange mark around his neck raises suspicions. And when his older (and richer) brother dies under suspicious circumstances, it seems that a killer is stalking the village. Enter Inspector Arnold, with his friend Desmond Merrion…

And I’m back. It feels like an age since my last post – six days ago in reality – but a few things have been slowing me down. In part the end of term, in part playing in a few Christmas gigs but primarily trying to get through a book that I just could not get into at all. It’s not out for a while, so I might go back to it, but probably not. So instead, I went for my first Crimes Of The Century book. It’s 1960 this month over at Past Offences, so I’m taking a look at the final two books written by Cecil “John Rhode” Street under his Miles Burton pseudonym. There’s just two problems – I’ve had very little luck with my COTC choices in the past – take a look at my review of An April Shroud for the full horror story – and the later Rhode/Burton books are generally perceived to be a bit on the crap side.

But I was pleasantly surprised with this one. Yes, Merrion is superfluous to the story – virtually everything he does is speculate, which Arnold ignores until he finds things out for himself – and comes across as pretty bland. The plot trundles along nicely though, and, as ever, the story is more about the investigation than presenting a fairly clued mystery, but there’s a nice reveal towards the end and there’s a clever simplicity in one of the murder methods. It makes a change from the other latter Rhode books that I’ve looked at that both hinged on a plot mechanic that was deeply irritating.

But what does it tell us about 1960 in the UK?

First off, the assumption that everyone smokes. A host apologises that he can’t offer his guest a post-dinner cigarette, which is presented as the norm, but it’s OK as they both smoke pipes (as they’re a bit posh).

Second of all, there’s a bit about racism in this one. There’s a pub that due to disagreements from the regulars has provided segregation for “coloureds”. Which may or may not have happened – I’ve got no idea. But that’s a statement from the author about the state of the time. What is rather more embarrassing for the author is the assumption that a white man can convincing disguise himself as black by rubbing powdered graphite over his face… Oh dear…

Ignoring that, though, this is a pleasant read. Nothing revolutionary but a straightforward mystery, told well. Well Worth A Look.


    • I presume those are the British Library ones. Tunnel is closer in style to this (and to be fair closer in style to most of Rhode/Burton’s output) but it’s a just-above-average outing in my opinion. There are better books out there, although they generally cost a packet. You basically have to keep an eye out, and then, for the most part, hope the cheapish one you stumble across was worth it…

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Just to say that I managed to snag a couple of Rhode novels on my local Kindle store at low prices… Looks like some are being re-released!


  2. The “color bar” that Street refers to certainly was an issue at the time. Segregation wasn’t just an issue in the Jim Crow American South, though there it had full legal sanction.

    The later Burtons are better than the Rhodes as a group.


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