I've mentioned John Rhode (whose real name was Cecil John Street) several times in this blog. He was a prolific writer, and in addition to countless Rhode books, he wrote a long series under the name Miles Burton. Over the years I've picked up numerous Burtons, but only in recent times have I got round to reading some of them. One of them is Heir to Lucifer, first published in 1947, and it's my Forgotten Book for today.
Although it is a post-war book, it seems on the surface to be a classic country house mystery. Desmond Merrion, late of Naval Intelligence, is Burton's regular amateur sleuth, who made his debut in a much earlier book, The Secret of High Eldersham, that I read a few weeks back and will probably cover one Friday soon. The book opens with Merrion and his wife Mavis setting off for the small resort of Croylehaven, because Mavis has been under the weather. It's not an ideal choice, since mystery and mayhem promptly ensue - yet with each violent death, Mavis seems to perk up a bit more...
Croylehaven is dominated by Castle Croyle, home to the eponymous Lucifer, a rich old man surrounded by relatives who are financially dependent on him. Usually, this set-up means that the old chap will soon be a goner,but this is an unusual book. Lucifer survives, although a small boy is killed, an attempt is made on Lucifer's life, and a murder victim's corpse is discovered at an ice-house. By this time, the Merrions have become honoured guests at the Castle, forever popping in and out - the way you do when violent deaths keep occurring.
This is an odd book and its resolution is strange, untypical and rather disturbing. Yet I found it readable and interesting. Rhode/Burton does a pretty good job of making sure that you never know what to expect, and he certainly confounded my theory about the crime. There's a touch of darkness and irony about the ending that would, I suspect, have appealed to Rhode's Detection Club colleague Anthony Berkeley. Definitely worth a look, and by no means as conventional as the basic ingredients might suggest..