Major Pontefract, formerly of the Indian Army, was only scared of one thing in life, namely his wife, so when they were searching for the perfect place to live during his retirement, he quickly abandoned his plan to spend his days at the seaside, and they began flat-hunting in London. Mersea Grange seemed ideal, with flat 87 being available. It was reasonably priced, nice and spacious with all mod cons. The only thing – and it was quite a major thing – was the dead body on the living room floor with the stiletto knife in its back.
Inspector Arnold thought the case was pretty straightforward. There was tension between the husband and wife in Flat 86 with the murder being victim being the primary reason – the murder weapon coming from the husband’s weapon collection – but his friend Desmond Merrion thinks that perhaps the amount of evidence is a little too convenient…
Before we start, I’m going to insert a blatant plug here for a fellow blogger.
- Do you like locked room mysteries?
- Do you like mysteries for younger readers?
- Do you like podcasts on classic mysteries that are both entertaining and informative (apart from the episode with me, that is)?
- Do you like Freeman Wills Crofts?
- Do you like pictures of Pomeranian puppies?
Well in that case, you really should check out The Invisible Event, the blog of my good friend JJ.
Why the unsubtle plug? Well JJ, you see, is a gentleman, who, knowing of my obsession with all things John Rhode, spotted this in a second hand shop and despite it being clearly under-priced, sold it to me for what he paid for it (i.e. not much). I do hope to return the favour, but in the meantime, here’s a plug for his excellent blog.
So, onto this book, the twenty-thirdish mystery novel featuring Desmond Merrion and/or Inspector Arnold, the third of my trilogy of John Street titles that started with The Figure of Eight – meh – and Hendon’s First Case – much better, but still flawed. You’d hope that this would form a nice progression and be fabulous. While it falls short of that, the quality progression is still an upward one.
The setting is a good, simple one – a surprising discovery of a body, a pair of suspects, each favoured by one of the detectives, some peripheral characters who just might have a motive as well and some – wait for it – genuine detection by the sleuths to uncover who exactly the culprit was, with a clever(-ish) central idea that turns the situation on its head.
The suspects and peripheral characters are nicely drawn. The opening section featuring the blustering Major is rather fun, and although he plays little part in what follows, the rest of the cast are clearly defined – at no point was I trying to remember who was who. There are some rather talky sections in the middle third of the book, although Merrion and Arnold make an interesting pair (while being no Bathurst and MacMorran), and despite the deduction required to be certain of the villain’s identity, it is pretty guessable. There’s no “wow” moment, or least likely suspect here, but it is a satisfying solution.
All in all, this is what I expect from a Miles Burton title – a good solid mystery that keeps you pondering. There’s no clever murder-gadget or anything revolutionary here, but a good tale, well told. And that’ll do for me.