1943, in the village of Exton Forcett, all is not well. The village doctor has been called off to war and his locum, Dr Wiegler, has not endeared himself to the community with his bedside manner. Not only is he brusque and rude, especially compared to the man he has replaced, Dr Cecil, but he has a habit of sticking his nose into village business. He seems to have a clear sense of right and wrong and is determined to do something about the things that he has issues with in – until someone decides to murder him.
Enter Captain Desmond Merrion, visiting from the war office. He suspects murder, but it’s not until a second unexpected death that the investigation starts for real. But with no clear motive linking the two deaths, can he, along with Inspector Arnold, find the killer or is the killer going to strike again?
After Men Die At Cypress Lodge, this is another 1943 Book for Crimes Of The Century and another from John Rhode/Miles Burton. There are two more, in fact, from this year, but good luck finding an affordable copy of Dead On The Track or Dead Stop, so I’m going to have to look elsewhere if there’s going to be a third 1943 book.
The sense of wartime is less than in the other Rhode book. The lack of a permanent village doctor is the primary result of the setting, but there are others, most notably on the opening page.
“It was difficult to find guests in Exton Forcett, for of the few residents there were in the village, so many had left to serve in various capacities elsewhere. And those who had drifted in, seeking a safe area in which to live, were not at all the sort of people President Trump Lady Corringham cared to invite.”
How odd that the second of these 1943 books seem to echo some present thoughts. But enough about politics, what about the mystery?
Well, there’s some good and bad news concerning Burton’s sleuth, Desmond Merrion. Good News: He finally displays an interesting character trait. Bad News: It’s not a good one… After establishing to Lord Corringham that the first “accidental” death was murder, announces that it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie and promptly disappears, despite only the vaguest suggestion that Wielger’s death might have been deserved. I know there’s a war on, but that isn’t the reason given. Just comes across as if the death of a locum doctor isn’t particularly interesting to Merrion. It’s only the second murder (which you could make a case for him being responsible for by not investigating the first one – that’s not addressed either) that piques his interest.
But ignoring that, this is a strong effort from Street/Rhode/Burton. It’s closer in style to the traditional whodunit that usual, with no faffing around setting up an over-the-top murder scheme, a la Death In The Tunnel, but a classic village murder mystery, and a rather good one. Yes, you could make a case that the killer’s motive for doing what they do (even before the murder) is somewhat over the top, hence the murders being something of an over-reaction, but this is jolly good fun.
Let’s take a look at the availability of this one – my copy is a little on the odd side – it’s the white cover at the top of the post, which oddly seems to have a map that should be inside the book, but doesn’t appear anywhere in the text. Not that the map is essential for solving the mystery, but it looks like it’s from the original text. Probably. This was republished in 1975 by Ian Henry Publications Ltd, along with (I think) Look Alive, Death Paints A Picture and Three Corpse Trick although despite this republication, they are still in short supply. It’s an odd collection of four books, coming from 1943, 1949, 1960 and 1944 respectively. There’s a note inside the dustjacket from the publishers saying that most of the books in this series (Distinguished Detective Novels) were recommended by librarians and any other suggestions would be welcomed. No idea how extensive this range was – the back of the book cites three others, namely The Tender Killer by S B Hough, Case For Three Detectives by Leo Bruce and A Girl Died Singing by Nigel Morland, but I presume there are others.
Anyway, if you can get your hands on this one, then you’ll find an interesting well-written Golden Age mystery with a couple of nifty ideas in it. Highly Recommended.