The name of W.J. Burley is inextricably linked with that of his series character, Superintendent Charles Wycliffe, who was portrayed by Jack Shepherd (not entirely to Burley's delight) in the eponymous TV series about the Cornish cop. It's less well-known that he wrote a variety of other novels. Two of them were classic detective novels, featuring Henry Pym, and one was a sci-fic novel, The 6th Day. There were also some stand-alones, and these include Charles and Elizabeth, published in 1979.
Charles and Elizabeth is an obscure book. I don't think it was ever paperbacked in Britain, and I've never seen it discussed anywhere. I referred to it in an article I wrote for Mystery Scene years ago, but that was before I read it. That article, by the way, was adapted for inclusion on a Burley tribute website established by Mario de Pace. I had an interesting correspondence with Mario at the time, and he featured extracts from Burley's 'plot books' on the site. Sadly, the site is no longer extant. On looking into the matter, I was sorry to find that Mario died seven years ago. The loss of the website does mean that there's a dearth of interesting material on the web concerning Burley - a shame.
It's clear that Burley was pleased with this book, and I can see why. He must have been really frustrated that it didn't make more of an impact. It isn't a detective story in any conventional sense, although one might argue that the narrator, Brian Kenyon, undertakes an investigation into the past, trying to uncover the truth about the title characters.
This book was correctly described by Gollancz, the publishers, as 'a distinctly Gothic novel of suspense' I don't want to say too much about the story, but in a nutshell Brian (a teacher, like Burley) finds himself able to access the life of Charles Bottrell, a young man from a rich family who lived in Cornwall in the 1860s. Charles disappeared in mysterious circumstances - was he murdered? At first I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy the story, but Burley's concise, unflashy, Simenonesque style, suits the strange material.
The sections set in the past start to merge with those in the present - personally, I'd have included section breaks, but I'm sure Burley's decision was a conscious one, though it's slightly confusing. Before long I found myself gripped. This is a short, fascinating book that doesn't deserve to be forgotten. Had I written it, I'd have ended the story differently but again it's clear that Burley was working to a particular design and his conclusion does have some merit. I suspect that the real problem was that this novel came out at a time when stories of this type were not terribly fashionable. But it was a good book in 1979 and it is still a good book.