The Secret of High Eldersham, first published in 1931,was the second book that John Rhode (or, to be precise, Cecil John Street) wrote under the name Miles Burton. The first,was a thriller, and this book too is more of a thriller than a detective story. However,it is significant because it introduces Desmond Merrion, the clean-cut hero who went on to feature in dozens of Burton's books, including a post-war story, Heir to Lucifer, which I featured in this column recently..
The author was a great pub-goer, and it's typical of him that the first scene is devoted to a discussion about a publican's wish to move from one pub to another. How this bears on the plot becomes evident much later. After this preamble, the action moves forward five years, and the man who takes over from him as landlord of a pub in the remote East Anglian village of High Eldersham is found to have been murdered.
At first, it appears that the identity of the culprit is obvious, but the individual in question appears to have a cast-iron alibi. Well, we know about alibis in Golden Age stories, don't we? However, this isn't one of those railway timetable stories of the kind associated with Freeman Wills Crofts, and soon the plot thickens. The police are out of their depth, and Merrion lends a hand. He also takes an interest in Mavis, daughter of the local squire...
This book is very highly rated by Barzun and Taylor, those great American experts in Golden Age fiction, and I'm glad finally to have got round to reading it. For me, the particular appeal of the book lies in the rather spooky setting - East Anglia is a fascinating part of the country that has often featured in fine crime novels. It's also somewhere I'd like to revisit before long.
I've read a lot of the John Rhode books but so far none of Street's Miles Burton books. I really must do something about this.
Martin, this was one of the first Miles Burton titles I read, and I enjoyed it immensely. For my own tastes, I find the Desmond Merrion books more interesting than the Dr. Priestley ones, though I do enjoy Rhode as well.
Thanks for these comments. I certainly feel tempted to read more Miles Burton soon.
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