My Book Notes: The Secret of High Eldersham, 1930 (Desmond Merrion #1) by Miles Burton


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The British Library Publishing Division, 2016. Book Form: Kindle Edition. File Size: 3333 KB. Print Length: 277 pages. eISBN: 978-0-7123-6421-8. ASIN: B01DPLMSG4. Originally published in 1930 by Collins, this is the second book written by Cecil John Charles Street as Miles Burton, the first to feature his series sleuth Desmond Merrion.

61xAEME-CeLBook Description: Samuel Whitehead, the new landlord of the Rose and Crown, is a stranger in the lonely East Anglian village of High Eldersham. When the newcomer is stabbed to death in his pub, and Scotland Yard are called to the scene, it seems that the veil dividing High Eldersham from the outside world is about to be lifted.
Detective-Inspector Young forms a theory about the case so utterly impossible that merely entertaining the suspicion makes him doubt his own sanity. Surrounded by sinister forces beyond his understanding, and feeling the need of rational assistance, he calls on a brilliant amateur and ‘living encyclopedia’, Desmond Merrion. Soon Merrion falls for the charms of a young woman in the village, Mavis Owerton. But does Mavis know more about the secrets of the village than she is willing to admit?

My Take: Strangers are not welcome in the East Anglian village of High Eldersham. For some time, Samuel Whitehead seems to be the exception to the rule. Four and a half years ago, Whitehead, a retired Metropolitan Police sergeant, took over the local pub, the Rose and Crown, and, against all odds, he’s been quite successful. But one night, the local constable, realising that the pub light was on, finds Whitehead dead with a knife wound to his back. A local man who held a grudge towards him becomes the prime suspect. However, he has a compelling alibi for the night of the crime and is discarded. The Chief Constable calls Scotland Yard for help and Detective-Inspector Robert Young is sent to investigate. Young settles himself in the Rose and Crown but, finding no cooperation amongst the local people, he senses it is an issue that far exceeds him and requests the assistance of his friend Desmond Morris.

Martin Edwards has not only written the introduction to this new edition of The Secret of High Eldersham (British Library Crime Classics, 2016) but he includes this novel in his book The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics, 2017), a book that, by the way, I strongly recommend. If only for this reason, it is well worth reading The Secret of High Eldersham. But the story in itself is full of surprises. What it might at first sight appears to be a detective novel it soon becomes a thriller in which traditional beliefs about curses, spells and witchcraft play a significant role. Elements that make this novel closely related to the gothic tradition of early mystery stories. Though at the end there are no supernatural elements and all fits into place. It is quite possible that, for this reason, may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I can assure you that it has many unforgettable moments to the delight of the most demanding readers. Additionally you may also enjoy the description of the sites where these events take place. Ultimately, as Martin Edwards writes in the Introduction quoting Jacques Barzun and Wendel Hertig Taylor, “a primary function of the mystery story is to entertain in a variety of ways, and on this score The Secret of High Eldersham. . . has no superior.’

My rating: B (I liked it)

The Secret of High Eldersham has been reviewed, among others, at Cross-Examining Crime, Past Offences, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Crime Review, The Grandest Game in the World, Classic Mysteries, Vintage Pop Fictions, Golden Age of Detection Wiki, Mystery File, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection

488

(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Collins The Crime Club (UK), 1930)

About the Author: Cecil John Charles Street, MC, OBE, (1884 – January 1965), known as CJC Street and John Street, began his military career as an artillery officer in the British army. During the course of World War I, he became a propagandist for MI7, in which role he held the rank of Major. After the armistice, he alternated between Dublin and London during the Irish War of Independence as Information Officer for Dublin Castle, working closely with Lionel Curtis. He later earned his living as a prolific writer of detective novels. He produced two long series of novels; one under the name of John Rhode featuring the forensic scientist Dr Priestley, and another under the name of Miles Burton featuring the investigator Desmond Merrion. Under the name Cecil Waye, Street produced four novels: The Figure of Eight; The End of the Chase; The Prime Minister’s Pencil; and Murder at Monk’s Barn. The Dr. Priestley novels were among the first after Sherlock Holmes to feature scientific detection of crime, such as analysing the mud on a suspect’s shoes. Desmond Merrion is an amateur detective who works with Scotland.

Recommended books by Miles Burton: The Secret of High Eldersham (1930) aka The Mystery of High Eldersham; Death of Mr Gantley (1931); To Catch a Thief (1934); The Devereux Court Mystery (1935); Death in the Tunnel (1936) aka Dark is the Tunnel; Murder of a Chemist (1936); Where is Barbara Prentice (1936) aka The Clue of the Silver Cellar; Death at the Club (1937) aka The Clue of the Fourteen Keys; The Platinum Cat (1938); Death Leaves No Card (1939); Mr Babbacombe Dies (1939); Mr Westerby Missing (1940); Up the Garden Path (1941) aka Death Visits Downspring; Murder, MD (1943) aka Who Killed The Doctor; Four-ply Yarn (1944) aka The Shadow on the Cliff; The Three Corpse Trick (1944); Not a Leg to Stand On (1945); The Cat Jumps (1946); Situation Vacant (1946); Death Takes the Living (1949) aka The Disappearing Parson; Ground for Suspicion (1950); Murder in Absence (1954); and Bones in the Brickfield (1958). (Source: Curtis Evans’ Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery, McFarland, 2012). For a detailed list of Miles Burton books click at John Rhode page at Golden Age of Detection Wiki, here).

The British Library publicity page

Poisoned Pen publicity page

Mike Grost page on John Rhode and Miles Burton

El secreto de High Eldersham, de Miles Burton

el-secreto-de-high-eldershamDescripción del libro: La Inglaterra profunda y siniestra, aquí representada en la remota región de East Anglia, es magistralmente evocada en la segunda novela de Cecil John Charles Street, publicada bajo el nombre de Miles Burton. Estamos en High Eldersham, un villorrio empapado de viejas tradiciones. Un anochecer, en el apartado pub The Rose and Crown, el policía local encuentra apuñalado a su propietario, Samuel Whitehead, sargento retirado de la policía metropolitana. La historia, también conocida como El misterio de High Eldersham, combina con éxito una trama detectivesca con ingredientes propios de las novelas de suspense (Thrillers). El secreto de High Eldersham supuso el debut de su protagonista, el detective privado Desmond Merrion, personaje que, como modelo en su género, tanto ensalzaron los críticos Jacques Barzun y Wendel Hertig Taylor, conocidos autores del canónico Catalog of Crime (1971). Es una novela con una trama sumamente ingeniosa que mantiene el interés hasta el desenlace y que entronca con la tradición del cuento gótico británico de Ann Radcliffe o M.R. James. El secreto de High Eldersham se publicó en España en los años treinta y posteriormente se recogió en la colección Revista Literaria Novelas y Cuentos en 1945. Ahora la presentamos en una nueva edición con el texto completo. (Fuente: Editorial Renacimiento, Ediciones Espuela de Plata, 2019).

Mi opinión: Los extraños no son bienvenidos en el pueblo de High Eldersham en East Anglia. Durante algún tiempo, Samuel Whitehead parece ser la excepción a la regla. Hace cuatro años y medio, Whitehead, un sargento retirado de la Policía Metropolitana, se hizo cargo del pub local, el Rose and Crown, y, contra todo pronóstico, ha tenido bastante éxito. Pero una noche, el policía local, al darse cuenta de que la luz del pub estaba encendida, encuentra a Whitehead muerto con una herida de cuchillo en la espalda. Un hombre de la localidad que le guardaba rencor se convierte en el principal sospechoso. Sin embargo, tiene una coartada convincente en la noche del crimen y es descartado. El jefe de policía llama a Scotland Yard en busca de ayuda y el detective-inspector Robert Young es enviado a investigar. Young se instala en el Rose and Crown pero, al no encontrar cooperación entre la población local, siente que es un problema que lo supera con creces y solicita la ayuda de su amigo Desmond Morris.

Martin Edwards no solo ha escrito la introducción a esta nueva edición de El secreto de High Eldersham (British Library Crime Classics, 2016) sino que incluye esta novela en su libro The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics, 2017) , un libro que, por cierto, recomiendo encarecidamente. Aunque solo sea por esta razón, vale la pena leer El secreto de High Eldersham. Pero la historia en sí está llena de sorpresas. Lo que a primera vista parece ser una novela de detectives, pronto se convierte en un thriller en el que las creencias tradicionales sobre maleficios, hechizos y brujería juegan un papel importante. Elementos que hacen que esta novela esté estrechamente relacionada con la tradición gótica de las primeras historias de misterio. Aunque al final no hay elementos sobrenaturales y todo encaja en su lugar. Es muy posible que, por esta razón, no sea del gusto de todos, pero puedo asegurarles que contiene muchos momentos inolvidables para el deleite de los lectores más exigentes. Además, también pueden disfrutar de la descripción de los sitios donde discurren estos acontecimientos. En última instancia, como Martin Edwards escribe en la Introducción citando a Jacques Barzun y Wendel Hertig Taylor, “una función esencial de la historia de misterio es entretener de varias maneras, y en este sentido El secreto de High Eldersham … no tiene parangón.”

Mi valoración: B (Me gustó)

Sobre el autor: Miles Burton es uno de los tres seudónimos –los otros dos fueron John Rhode y Cecil Waye–, que el mayor Cecil John Charles Street (Gibraltar 1884-Eastbourne 1964) utilizó para dar rienda suelta a su portentosa creatividad como autor de novelas policiacas o detectivescas –más de ciento cincuenta novelas publicadas entre 1924  y 1961–. Sus dos personajes más conocidos son el detective aficionado Desmond Merrion, protagonista de esta novela, y el Dr. Prestley.  Fue uno de los fundadores del Detection Club británico junto a otros conocidos autores como G. K. Chesterton, E. C. Bentley, Anthony Berkeley, y, autoras como Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers o la baronesa Emma Orczy.

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