Death Of Mr Gantley (1932) by Miles Burton

Mr Arthur Gantley never made it home. On the way back from a weekend at his boat, he stopped at the Otterworth Arms in the village of Carronford to borrow some petrol. As he headed home, a rock struck his windscreen and he drove into a ditch. As the rock-thrower approached the car – he was a man from the pub with a long-standing grudge – a shot rings out and Mr Gantley lies dead.

Inspector Arnold from Scotland Yard and the local Inspector Driffield investigate, and find that things may hinge on a question of inheritance – a relative of Gantley’s died in an “accident” at roughly the same time, and the inheritance depends on who died first. Was the other death an accident? Did the killer know about the other death? It falls to Arnold’s recent acquaintance, Desmond Merrion, to sort things out.

This is the first meeting, on page at least, of Merrion and his perennial sidekick Arnold. Merrion had already appeared in The Secret Of High Eldersham and The Three Crimes, and Arnold in The Menace On The Downs, but apparently they met during the aftermath of The Three Crimes. Confused yet? Me too – why not make this their first meeting?

I was really pleased to be able to pick up a cheap(-ish) copy – well, technically, any copy – of this very early Burton title – the Burton titles, with a couple of exceptions, are so much rarer than the Rhode books written by John Street. It also tied in nicely with my plan to read a little more of the best contributors to Bodies 2 – Rhode wrote the excellent play Sixpennyworth.

[Just to clarify: if you’re unaware, John Rhode and Miles Burton were one and the same, pseudonyms for Cecil “John” Street, writing over sixty books under each pseudonym.]

This one probably wins the title for the least imaginative Street title, which is up against some stiff competition from the King of the literal title. The book does indeed concern the death of someone called Mr Gantley. What else could you call it, I suppose?

It’s a pretty good showing from Burton, this one. The characters are colourful, and Arnold, Driffield and Merrion are good company for the reader. It does get a little bit timetable-y in places, trying to work out exactly who was where at what time, but don’t worry too much about this, as it becomes clearer after a while – you don’t need a notebook, not if something about the case clicks for you. There’s a nice bit of misdirection, and while the reader won’t exactly fall off their chair with surprise at the identity of the murderer, there is something clever here, especially with some of the rationales for the murderer’s actions.

Definitely one of the better Burton titles that I’ve read, I really enjoyed this one.

Availability: Well, you’ll need £100+ to get the copy currently on Abebooks… Sorry.

Just The Facts, Ma’am: WHEN – Timing of the crime is critical.

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