This Undesirable Residence aka Death At Ash House (1942) by Miles Burton

Arthur Vousden had no idea his day was going to be so eventful. As the junior partner in the leading estate agents in Wraynesford, England, he was called on by a client, Simeon Appelby, who was expecting to meet his own secretary at the estate agents. But the secretary, Brinklow, never arrived…

Appelby was to take up residence in a property in the nearby village of Betherston, but it was another house in the village, Ash House, where Brinklow was found, sitting in his car in the driveway with his head smashed in. What motive could there be to kill someone with no connection to the locale? Why were Appelby’s valuable stamps stolen from the car, only to be abandoned, rather than being sold? And can Inspector Arnold solve a crime without the help of Desmond Merrion?

You have to hand it to Miles Burton aka John Rhode aka John Street. He couldn’t see a way to include Desmond Merrion, his usual sleuth, in this wartime tale, so he didn’t bother. Merrion had been working for the Intelligence services during the war in other books and as this is set in wartime – the town is described as being away from the bombing, although Vousden is an ARP Warden. Unlike Death Leaves No Card, where Merrion is too ill to help out, here he doesn’t even get a mention. So it just about counts as #DoMentionTheWar as there’s a war on, it just doesn’t affect the events of the book at all.

And credit to the author again, he doesn’t suddenly make Arnold a genius investigator. He does give him a sidekick who can ask all the obvious questions, but at the end of the day, it’s the convenient fingerprint that the villain leaves that identifies them, rather than cunning deductions. Arnold does pull a lot of threads together from that print, but probably as he’d read the plot before in a mystery novel.

Because at some point, the reader will probably spot what is going on. The author doesn’t help matters by not giving the reader enough suspects to mull over, and, let’s face it… well, hold on a minute, I was about to say that the character that the police suspect, in this case a disreputable “gypsy”, definitely won’t have done it, but Burton actually has made that work well in the past (although I won’t say where). Here though, at some point in the narrative, you’ll twig what’s going on, and there isn’t enough depth in the plot keep the reader guessing or even thinking they might have guessed wrong.

The shallow plot is the problem here, really, as while the book chugs along nicely, there just isn’t enough of a plot to support the length of the novel. It’s fine, and nowhere near as disappointing as a couple of the Burton books – Early Morning Murder springs to mind – it just needed more plot…

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