Miles Burton, better known as John Rhode, wrote a long series of novels featuring Desmond Merrion. The Three Corpse Trick, first published in 1944, has been judged as one of the best if not the very best of them. Nick Fuller, a shrewd critic of Golden Age mysteries whose blog I heartily recommend, has described it as a masterpiece. For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the story is that the Second World War is ignored. We are explicitly told that Merrion's duties in the intelligence section of the Admiralty have ceased and he is free to roam around the English countryside again, solving mysteries in the company of his chum Inspector Arnold. Presumably Rhode was by this time confident that the war would be won. Or perhaps he simply didn't want to think about it any more.
The first chapter is devoted to a Mrs Burge's wanderings around a village in Deanshire, collecting money for charity. This approach enables the author to introduce us to a host of characters who will later feature in the story and provide a wealth of background information. At this early stage I picked up on one reference which eventually proved to be crucial to the plot. These things can happen, but I think many authors would have introduced the characters more gradually and painted them in a little more detail. In the event, two people who are pivotal to the story are peripheral figures, to say the least, and this does seem to me to be a weakness. And including a map of the neighbourhood would have been a big help.
Poor Mrs Burge is promptly murdered and Inspector Arnold is determined that her husband - who has vanished - is the guilty party. It takes quite a long time for the reasons for Burge's absence to become clear, and at around that stage of the novel we are also given some further information which proves to be highly relevant. At this point I realised the signifcance of the title and figured out what was going on.
Eventually, Merrion tumbles to the dastardly scheme. The crimes are neatly contrived, but I feel that a more talented writer could have made more of the raw material of the plot. It's definitely one of the better Rhode/Burton books that I've read, but it's also one which illustrates some of his shortcomings as a storyteller. Worth reading, but very guessable.