Tuesday, February 22, 2011

IN BRIEF: The Death of Mr. Gantley (1932) - Miles Burton

One of Burton's earliest and breezily written books. It's the fifth book under this pseudonym and features Inspector Arnold and Desmond Merrion. Also on hand are Inspector Driffield (a relative of J.J. Connington's Sir Clinton?) and a clever police constable who do some excellent detection early in the book before Merrion takes over and shows up all the policemen.

This is a somewhat complex tale of two relatives who die within 24 hours of each other. Lady Gantley's death is from seemingly natural causes, but her brother-in-law, Arthur, was obviously murdered. There is some involved business about wills dealing with precedence of deaths and who will inherit what depending on who dies first. Gantley is discovered in a car wreck dead from a bullet to his right temple. Just prior to the murder the reader knows Gantley was attacked by an embittered ex-employee who threw a rock at his car and caused the wreck. But was Mr. Gantley dead before or after the car crashed? The position of the body and evidence of lividity (earliest discussion of this type I've encountered in a crime novel from the Golden Age) makes it seem impossible that he could've been shot while the car was in motion. A missing suit and shoes and a missing box later found in Gantley's houseboat are important clues to the final solution.

A seasoned detective novel reader will see through the deception fairly early on. The novel is well clued but at times very subtle with those clues. Nevertheless, I figured it all out well before the halfway mark. A good example of the fair play detective novel: lots of action, very plot motivated with some nice character touches among the supporting players. The hateful Charles Harrington could've stepped out of the 21st century. He reminded me of the self-satisfied, wannabe artist/musician slackers we're plagued with these days.

Unfortunately, like most of the very early Miles Burton titles this is a very hard to find book. It was published only in the UK and had only one paperback reprint.


  1. David here:

    At least a few of the Burton books can be read free online (or downloaded) at various sources as can some of Herbert Adams books.

    Admittedly it isn't the same as a book in hand, but for difficult to find books it's a blessing.

  2. Am talking with Street's heir and Ramble House to try to make something happen with reprints, will keep you posted.