My Book Notes: Death in the Tunnel, 1936 (Desmond Merrion # 13) by Miles Burton

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The British Library Publishing Division, 2016. Book Form: Kindle Edition. File Size:2704 KB. Print Length: 190 pages. ASIN: B01DPJU890. eISBN: 978-0-7123-6409-6. With an Introduction by Martin Edwards. Originally published in the UK by Collins Crime Club in 1936, it was published in the United States by Doubleday the same year under the alternative title Dark is the Tunnel.

41UKK78-Q5L._SY264_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_ML2_Synopsis: On a dark November evening, Sir Wilfred Saxonby is travelling alone in the 5 o’clock train from Cannon Street, in a locked compartment. The train slows and stops inside a tunnel; and by the time it emerges again minutes later, Sir Wilfred has been shot dead, his heart pierced by a single bullet.
Suicide seems to be the answer, even though no motive can be found. Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard thinks again when learns that a mysterious red light in the tunnel caused the train to slow down.
Finding himself stumped by the puzzle, Arnold consults his friend Desmond Merrion, a wealthy amateur expert in criminology. Merrion quickly comes up with an ‘essential brainwave’ and helps to establish how Sir Wilfred met his end, but although it seems that the dead man fell victim to a complex conspiracy, the investigators are puzzled about the conspirators’ motives as well as their identities. Can there be a connection with Sir Wilfred’s seemingly troubled family life, his highly successful business, or his high-handed and unforgiving personality? And what is the significance of the wallet found on the corpse, and the bank notes that it contained?

From the Introduction: This is a story where the focus is on howdunit and whodunit, rather than on the characters’ motivations. Miles Burton, unlike some of his contemporaries, had little interest in exploring criminal psychology, and this lack of interest in why his characters are driven to behave as they do is one reason why his work dropped out of sight after his death. But he had a meticulous way with plots, and this book (retitled Dark is the Tunnel for the US market) received god reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. (Martin Edwards)

My take: At Stourford Station, a gentleman is found dead in a locked first-class compartment. The man in question, at Cannon Street, had tipped the guard to provide him with a compartment where he could travel alone. In fact, the same guard had to open the compartment at Stourford thinking that the gentleman had fallen asleep but, to his surprise, the passenger was dead. The stationmaster recognised him immediately. He was Sir Wilfred Saxonby, a big man locally, who lived at Mavis Court, a big place near Helverden, some five miles from the station. Lady Saxonby died some years ago. They had a son and a daughter, but both are now married and do not live at Mavis Court. Since the death of his wife, Miss Olivia Saxonby, Sir Wilfred’s niece, has kept house for him. As president of Wigland and Bunthorne, he used to go to London once a week or so. Everything seems to indicate that Sir Wilfred took his own life with a miniature automatic pistol that was found under his seat. CID Inspector Arnold is sent to investigate. There is little doubt that it’s been a suicide, but the dead man was quite an important man in the area and the Chief Constable is very anxious that everything should be done to clear the matter up.

It certainly seemed a suicide case, except for a few minor details. The return ticket was not found among Sir Wilfred’s belongings, the small pistol was not registered, and a small mishap forced the train to slow down as it passed through Blackdown Tunnel, though it did not stop and it could resume the march immediately. But Inspector Arnold finds himself at a dead end and requests the help of his friend Merrion, still “something of an amateur criminologist”.

IMO, and as TomCat correctly points out, Death in the Tunnel focuses exclusively on reconstructing the crime from a few insignificant details and therein lies its main strength and its weakness. For those who enjoy of pure detection aspects without further flourishes, this book is for you. But its drawback lies in the lack of characterization. The characters turn out too rigid and play the role of mere puppets. Consequently, despite a highly interesting puzzle, we can become indifferent to the plot due to the lack of emotions it conveys. In any case I look forward to reading some other books under the Miles Burton moniker, if I can found them, what is not an easy task. 

Death in the Tunnel has been reviewed, among others, by Jason Half, Chris Simmons at Crime Squad, Kate Jackson at Cross-examining Crime, Guy Savage at His Futile Preoccupation.…, TomCat at Beneath the Stains of Time, Steve Barge at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Les Blatt at Classic Mysteries, John Cleal at Crime Review, Sergio Angelini at Tipping My Fedora, Jim Noy at The Invisible Event, Bill Pronzini & Newell Dunlap at Mystery File, Jacqui at JacquiWine’s Journal, Nick Fuller at The Grandest Game in the World, Bev Hankins at My Reader’s Block, Margaret at BooksPlease, and fictionfan at FictionFans’s Book Reviews.


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC. Collins The Crime Club, UK (1936)


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC. Doubleday The Crime Club, USA (1936)

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 Yard’s Inspector Arnold.

Critic and author Julian Symons places this author as a prominent member of the “Humdrum” school of detective fiction. “Most of them came late to writing fiction, and few had much talent for it. They had some skill in constructing puzzles, nothing more, and ironically they fulfilled much better than S. S. Van Dine his dictum that the detective story properly belonged in the category of riddles or crossword puzzles. Most of the Humdrums were British, and among the best known of them were Major John Street.

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

Sourcebooks / Poisoned Pen publicity page

Mike Grost page on John Rhode and Miles Burton

Further reading: Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920-1961 by Curtis Evans,  McFarland, 2014.

Death in the Tunnel (Muerte en el tunel) de Miles Burton

Sinopsis: En una oscura noche de noviembre, Sir Wilfred Saxonby viaja solo en el tren de las 5 en punto desde Cannon Street, en un compartimiento cerrado. El tren reduce la velocidad y se detiene dentro de un túnel; y cuando vuelve a aparecer minutos después, Sir Wilfred ha sido asesinado a tiros, su corazón atravesado por una sola bala.
El suicidio parece ser la respuesta, aunque no se puede encontrar un motivo. El inspector Arnold de Scotland Yard reflexiona cuando se entera de que una misteriosa luz roja en el túnel hizo que el tren aminorara la velocidad.
Al encontrarse desconcertado por el enigma, Arnold consulta a su amigo Desmond Merrion, un rico aficionado experto en criminología. A Merrion rápidamente se le ocurre una ‘idea luminosa básica’ y ayuda a establecer cómo Sir Wilfred encontró su fin, pero aunque parece que el fallecido fue víctima de un complejo complot, los investigadores están desconcertados acerca de los motivos de los conjurados, así como de sus identidades. . ¿Puede haber una conexión con la vida familiar aparentemente problemática de Sir Wilfred, su próspero negocio o su personalidad autoritaria e implacable? ¿Y cuál es el significado de la billetera encontrada en el cadáver y los billetes de banco que contenía?

De la Introducción: Esta es una historia donde el acento está en cómo y quién, en lugar de las motivaciones de los personajes. Miles Burton, a diferencia de algunos de sus contemporáneos, tenía poco interés en explorar la psicología criminal, y esta falta de interés en saber por qué sus personajes se comportan como lo hacen es una de las razones por las que su trabajo desapareció después de su muerte. Pero era muy minucioso con las tramas, y este libro (retitulado Dark is the Tunnel para el mercado estadounidense) recibió buenas críticas en ambos lados del Atlántico. (Martin Edwards)

Mi opinión: En la estación de Stourford, un caballero es encontrado muerto en un compartimiento de primera clase cerrado con llave. El hombre en cuestión, en Cannon Street, le había dado una propina al revisor para que le proporcionara un compartimento donde pudiera viajar solo. De hecho, el mismo revisor tuvo que abrir el compartimiento en Stourford pensando que el caballero se había quedado dormido pero, para su sorpresa, el pasajero estaba muerto. El jefe de estación lo reconoció de inmediato. Era sir Wilfred Saxonby, un hombre importante de la localidad que vivía en Mavis Court, un lugar grande cerca de Helverden, a unas cinco millas de la estación. Lady Saxonby murió hace algunos años. Tuvieron un hijo y una hija, pero ahora ambos están casados ​​y no viven en Mavis Court. Desde la muerte de su mujer, la señorita Olivia Saxonby, la sobrina de Sir Wilfred, se ha encargado de llevar la casa. Como presidente de Wigland and Bunthorne, solía ir a Londres más o menos una vez a la semana. Todo parece indicar que Sir Wilfred se quitó la vida con una pistola automática en miniatura que se encontró debajo de su asiento. El inspector del CID Arnold es enviado a investigar. No hay duda de que ha sido un suicidio, pero el muerto era un hombre bastante importante en la zona y el jefe de policía tiene muchas ganas de que se haga todo lo posible para aclarar el asunto.

Ciertamente parecía un caso de suicidio, excepto por algunos detalles menores. El billete de vuelta no se encontró entre las pertenencias de Sir Wilfred, la pequeña pistola no estaba registrada y un pequeño percance obligó al tren a reducir la velocidad al pasar por Blackdown Tunnel, aunque no se detuvo y pudo reanudar la marcha de inmediato. Pero el inspector Arnold se encuentra en un callejón sin salida y solicita la ayuda de su amigo Merrion, todavía “una especie de criminólogo aficionado”.

En mi opinión, y como señala correctamente TomCat, Death in the Tunnel se centra exclusivamente en reconstruir el crimen a partir de unos pocos detalles insignificantes y en ello reside su principal fortaleza y su debilidad. Para aquellos que disfrutan de los aspectos de detección pura sin más florituras, este libro es para ti. Pero su inconveniente radica en su falta de caracterización. Los personajes resultan demasiado rígidos y juegan el papel de meros títeres. En consecuencia, a pesar de ser un enigma muy interesante, podemos volvernos indiferentes a la trama debido a la falta de emociones que transmite. En cualquier caso, espero leer otros libros bajo el pseudónimo de Miles Burton, si puedo encontrarlos, lo que no es tarea fácil.

Sobre el autor: Cecil John Charles Street, MC, OBE, (1884 – enero de 1965), conocido como CJC Street y John Street, comenzó su carrera militar como oficial de artillería en el ejército británico. Durante el transcurso de la Primera Guerra Mundial, se convirtió en divulgador del MI7, cargo en el que ocupó el rango de Comandante. Después del armisticio, alternó entre Dublín y Londres durante la Guerra de Independencia de Irlanda como Oficial de Información del Castillo de Dublín, en estrecha colaboración con Lionel Curtis. Más tarde se ganó la vida como un prolífico escritor de novelas policiacas.

Creó dos largas series de novelas; una bajo el nombre de John Rhode con el científico forense Dr. Priestley, y otro bajo el nombre de Miles Burton con el investigador Desmond Merrion. Bajo el nombre de Cecil Waye, Street publicó cuatro novelas:The Figure of Eight; The End of the Chase; The Prime Minister’s Pencil; y Murder at Monk’s Barn. Las novelas del Dr. Priestley fueron de las primeras después de Sherlock Holmes en incorporar la detección científica del crimen, por ejemplo analizar el barro en los zapatos de un sospechoso. Desmond Merrion es un detective aficionado que trabaja con el inspector Arnold de Scotland Yard.

El crítico y autor Julian Symons sitúa a este autor como un miembro destacado de la escuela “Humdrum” de novela policíaca. “La mayoría de ellos llegó tarde a escribir ficción, y pocos tenían mucho talento para ello. Tenían cierta habilidad para construir enigmas, nada más, e irónicamente cumplieron mucho mejor que S. S. Van Dine su dicho de que la historia de detectives pertenecía propiamente a la categoría de acertijos o crucigramas. La mayoría de los Humdrums eran británicos, y entre los más conocidos estaba el comandante John Street.

5 thoughts on “My Book Notes: Death in the Tunnel, 1936 (Desmond Merrion # 13) by Miles Burton”

  1. I remember really enjoying this one. But as you say, it was merely for the puzzle. There isn’t a character in it that I can bring to mind.

  2. Thanks for linking to my review, Jose. As you say, it’s an intriguing puzzle, even though the characterisation could have been stronger.

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