Death Of Two Brothers (1941) by Miles Burton

Miss Lettice Baydon had a simple philosophy in life – a good walk every day was essential. She lived in Brighton but spent a good deal of time visiting places in the country, exploring new places as much as possible. And it was this that brought her to Lillingford. And to the footpath around the edge of the chalk-pit. And to discovering the body of Harry Mereworth…

While it seems that it may have been an accident, or possibly a suicide, Inspector Arnold has his doubts. Mereworth had a number of enemies in the village – his father, his brother, his fiancée… his other fiancée…

One year later, and the village is in the shadow of war. And in the darkness of the blackout, a shot rings out… and another brother lies dead…

I’m currently looking at obscure John Rhode/Miles Burton titles and they really don’t come much obscurer than this. Miles Burton titles tend to be rarer than the John Rhode ones, and the wartime titles are always the rarest. As a bonus, this has to my knowledge, never been reprinted. And that is a massive shame, as I think this is one of the best Burton titles that I’ve read.

First of all, this is a great example to disprove the “Humdrum” label that John Street has been stuck with, as there’s a lot of character work on display here. Miss Baydon is the primary focus – a woman who creates a good impression with nobody when they meet her at first, but people soon realise her good nature and common sense. She is present in both sections of the tale, as when war breaks out, her circumstances change and she has to leave Brighton and despite the murder that occurred on her first visit, she chooses Lillingford as her new home. She even acts at one point as a confidant to Inspector Arnold, given that Desmond Merrion, while getting a few names checks, is noticeably absent again. There’s some good stuff here about the change in the village once war breaks out, with night-time patrols, everyone chipping in together and forgetting old grudges (for the most part).

Distinctions of class and temperament disappeared with, on the whole, happy results. The necessity for working together in close companionship may have occasioned a few dislikes and jealousies, but it certainly gave birth to many more friendships.

Now, I suppose this is getting into the region of spoilers as I want to talk a little about the structure of the book. It took me by surprise on reading it, as it’s not hinted at by the blurb, so if, should you ever get the chance, want to read this book with as little info as I did, then stop reading now. I’m not going to spoil anything about the mystery, just the structure of the book. So if you want to know more, I’ll be back after this cat…

Right. So what we have here is basically two linked novellas. The murder of the first brother (in 1938/9) is solved in that section of the book and the murder of the second brother is a different story with some shared characters in the second half of the book. There are some thematic links between the tales, and the events in the first do influence the second, but they are different stories. It’s not something I’ve seen before – two cases, yes, but not with one cleared up before the second one starts. I think it’s safe to say, as there is clearly no real common ground, that the first case does not get re-evaluated and a new solution found in light of the second case, they are different cases that where the victims happen to share some DNA. They’re both very good stories too, although the killer in the second case is a bit guessable…

One thing worth pointing out is that Desmond Merrion is missing from this tale – during the second half, he is assumed by Arnold to be working for the Admiralty Intelligence, but he’s not needed for the first half. There are at least four Burton stories that feature Inspector Arnold but not Merrion, namely this, Menace On The Downs, Death Leaves No Card and This Undesirable Residence. Similarly, there are Merrion books that don’t feature Arnold – The Secret Of High Eldersham and Murder Unrecognised, for example. Yet there is still a linear continuity, it seems, from title to title, unless there are some wartime titles that I’m unaware of featuring just Merrion that occur at the same time as this one. Just thought I’d mention it, in case someone was planning to reprint these, you can’t call them the “Desmond Merrion Mysteries”… And I really hope that if reprints occur, this is one of the books that is chosen. One of the most enjoyable of Street’s titles, from any of his pseudonyms.

I’ll be heading to the Bodleian once more this summer before term starts once again. Reading these obscure titles, and bringing a bit of info about them to the internet, is rather fun, so if anyone has any requests for my next visit, do leave them in the comments below…

4 comments

  1. It must be wonderful to read such rare titles in the wonderful atmosphere of the Bodleian. I have only visited there in Oxford once before, but it is an extraordinary place.

    Still hoping when you get time you will tell me your top 5 – 10 ranked Rhode or Burton titles as you seem to have the authoritative view of Street’s work (in addition to your knowledge of Brian Flynn).

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  2. I found a copy of this one right as Masters was going to press. I was able to insert some points from Brothers into a few footnotes though. It’s an enjoyable, somewhat atypical book–too bad the title is so dull!

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