Situation Vacant by Miles Burton

Mr Green is going through every parent’s nightmare. His daughter hasn’t come home. It’s near to the end of the world for him – after all, who’s going to make him his supper? It soon transpires that Iris Green isn’t out on the town with her boyfriend, but floating in the nearby river. And that it seemed was that. The Whyttingtons got a new secretary to replace Iris. Mr Green got himself a housekeeper…

But then the new secretary of the Whyttingtons is also found dead, this time in more suspicious circumstances – of carbon monoxide poisoning. Enter Inspector Arnold and his perennial sleuthing companion Desmond Merrion…

I’ve heard very good things about the Miles Burton title, The Cat Jumps. I say that as it was the title published between Early Morning Murder and Situation Vacant. Both of these titles are relatively easy to find – well, relative to the other Miles Burton titles anyway, but The Cat Jumps is as rare as hen’s teeth. You wonder who sat down and thought “you know, I think we should reprint a couple of Miles Burton titles from the end of war period, but you know what, let’s pick the crap ones…”

Not that Situation Vacant is dreadful – Early Morning Murder is, mind you – but it hardly rates next to the finest from Miles Burton aka John Rhode. The first chapter, a portrait of the unpleasant Mr Green starts the book off very well. The scene where he goes to the local chemist to get a solution for his daughter’s behaviour is creepy as hell, but it goes downhill from there.

Admittedly, I’ve had to read this in small chunks, rather than in a single sitting, but it still seemed to drag on forever. Murder M.D. has a similar idea, if you replace repeated doctor murders with repeated secretary murders, but while that book was a load of fun and never seemed to drag, even before Merrion turns up, this one was the opposite.

The section between the deaths seemed to go on for far longer than its page count and once the investigation starts properly… well, things didn’t pick up for me. The choice of murderer isn’t a particularly interesting one, but quite frankly, I’d dozed off by then…

So a word to the wise. If you come across this one and think, yippee, a cheap Miles Burton title, be aware, this isn’t representative of the man’s work. There are a couple of decent ideas here, but it’s far from his best work. Very far, in fact…

6 comments

  1. Yes, this is mediocre! You could, though, say it *is* representative of the man’s work – it’s an ultra-typical, undistinguished Burton, written on autopilot (“fishberries” aside). There’s a village; members of the same profession are exterminated; and Merrion and Arnold argue their way through the case. Arnold, of course, leaps to a solution that is both obvious and idiotic. That describes half the Burtons!

    Street churned out four books a year. You could guarantee that at least one would be good, and the others anywhere from boring to good. Rarely gobsmackingly brilliant, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t read this for a while, but I’d say it is better than mediocre, while not his best work (that would probably be The Three Corpse Trick, out of those that I’ve read – admittedly not a high proportion). The question of why some books by prolific authors are far easier to come by than others is quite a puzzle – one possible answer is that the better ones are less likely to be discarded and so available for resale!

    Like

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