Death In Shallow Water (1948) by Miles Burton

In the village of Winderport, there seems to be a significant hazard to avoided, especially if you’re in the Watkyn family. Both Sir William Watkyn and his wife, Lady Watkyn, are found drowned in shallow water – him, when he (possibly) falls into the lake he was fishing in and her, when, overcome by excessive chloroform in her shampoo, she falls forward into her wash basin.

While the inquests are deemed accidents by the local inquests, when a third drowning takes place, Inspector Arnold is summoned to look into matters with Desmond Merrion close behind. But with tensions rising within the village, can they prevent another murder?

Sometimes Miles Burton/John Rhode has a problem with writing convincing behaviour from the police, but this is a great example. The focus of the story is the developing tensions between the interested parties, which is really entertaining to sit back and watch, but for it to happen, the police basically need not to be there for the majority of the plot and nobody should suspect there’s a murderer on the prowl.

But unfortunately, that involves the police assuming that someone accidentally put too much chloroform (or indeed, any chloroform) into a shampoo bottle and that caused an accidental death. Of course it’s bloody murder! Even Merrion, while saying that things might not have been finished, doesn’t seem particularly inclined to investigate the second death. Pretty sure that’s not the first time that he’s turned a blind eye to an obvious crime, only for more death to follow…

This really would have worked better as a non-series title, as the cast is an interesting bunch of suspect, although the character known by the nickname “Batty” due to his lack of mental prowess has dated somewhat. The changing motivations are fun to follow, but unfortunately it all falls apart when we get to the murderer.

Because at the end of the day, things get all too obvious – anyone looking for a surprise in the finale won’t get one. Well, possibly, I suppose, but it was all crushingly inevitable and disappointing for this reader.

A shame – this is 75% of a really interesting mystery, stupid police excepted – but the end really lets it down.

Just The Facts, Ma’am: HOW – Death By Drowning.

6 comments

  1. Yes, not one of the better Burton/Rhode titles – although arguably Merrion is more use here than in Early Morning Murder, where he really might as well not be present at all.

    Like

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