Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton

Cecil John Charles Street (1884-1964) was a pillar of Golden Age crime fiction, writing under multiple names. As John Rhode, he created a series of about 70 books with Dr. Lancelot Priestley, Inspector Hanslet, and Inspector Jimmy Waghorn, published between 1925 and 1961. He also wrote short stories, stand-alone novels, stage plays, and non-fiction under this pseudonym.

As Cecil Waye, he wrote four novels about Christopher and Vivienne Perrin, private investigators in London.

Under the name Miles Burton, he wrote about 60 novels between 1930 and 1960 featuring Desmond Merrion and Inspector Henry Arnold. The first of these was The Secret of High Eldersham, also known as The Mystery of High Eldersham, published in 1930 by W. Collins, Sons & Co, and released as a British Crime Library Classic in 2016.

The residents of the village of High Eldersham in East Anglia are known to be reserved and unwelcoming to strangers. So it was a considerable surprise to the owners of the Rose and Crown that the new landlord from London, Samuel Whitehead, a retired sergeant of the Metropolitan Police, slid into his job smoothly. Until five years after his arrival, the village policeman found him stabbed to death in front of his fireplace. Whitehead was known as an easygoing landlord and had no quarrels with the locals. No one could begin to guess the motive for the murder. The county Chief Constable felt the case was beyond the abilities of the area police, to their dismay, and lost no time in sending for someone from Scotland Yard.

Detective-Inspector Robert Young quickly agreed that the village was odd. He requested help from Desmond Merrion, an acquaintance from the war whom Young considered a walking encyclopedia of offbeat trivia. Young continued the investigation along standard police lines, while Merrion looked into some of the village residents. From there, the story expands into a number of directions: witchcraft, drug trafficking, nautical elements such as tide tables and boats, and a romance.

It’s hard to imagine how such diverse threads will come together but they do. The actual mystery is good if predictable, as there are only a handful of characters that meet the essential criteria to be the villain. As others have pointed out, the momentum is uneven. There are absorbing scenes with lots of action or good dialog but the text linking them is ponderous. I was surprised to learn this title is the beginning of a long-running series: I assumed from the ending I was reading a stand-alone story. I have no idea how a series of 60 books was spun off from it. If all of the murders in the series take place in High Eldersham, it is clearly an early instance of Cabot Cove Syndrome. I must sample a few later books.

To see what others thought of the book, see the Golden Age of Detection Wiki, and Cross-Examining Crime,

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