Death Paints A Picture by Miles Burton

death-paints-a-pictureGeorge Hawken was a quiet unassuming old man. He lived in the fishing village of Port Bosun in Cornwall, whiling away his time. Sometimes, he would go to the nearby cliff-top and paint. Sometimes those paintings would be sold for a bit of money. The days passed and nothing seemed to change. Until the day that he didn’t come back from the cliff-top…

George was found at the bottom of the cliff – an accident, a suicide or murder? No one seemed to have a motive for killing him, but a strange mark around his neck raises suspicions. And when his older (and richer) brother dies under suspicious circumstances, it seems that a killer is stalking the village. Enter Inspector Arnold, with his friend Desmond Merrion…

And I’m back. It feels like an age since my last post – six days ago in reality – but a few things have been slowing me down. In part the end of term, in part playing in a few Christmas gigs but primarily trying to get through a book that I just could not get into at all. It’s not out for a while, so I might go back to it, but probably not. So instead, I went for my first Crimes Of The Century book. It’s 1960 this month over at Past Offences, so I’m taking a look at the final two books written by Cecil “John Rhode” Street under his Miles Burton pseudonym. There’s just two problems – I’ve had very little luck with my COTC choices in the past – take a look at my review of An April Shroud for the full horror story – and the later Rhode/Burton books are generally perceived to be a bit on the crap side.

But I was pleasantly surprised with this one. Yes, Merrion is superfluous to the story – virtually everything he does is speculate, which Arnold ignores until he finds things out for himself – and comes across as pretty bland. The plot trundles along nicely though, and, as ever, the story is more about the investigation than presenting a fairly clued mystery, but there’s a nice reveal towards the end and there’s a clever simplicity in one of the murder methods. It makes a change from the other latter Rhode books that I’ve looked at that both hinged on a plot mechanic that was deeply irritating.

But what does it tell us about 1960 in the UK?

First off, the assumption that everyone smokes. A host apologises that he can’t offer his guest a post-dinner cigarette, which is presented as the norm, but it’s OK as they both smoke pipes (as they’re a bit posh).

Second of all, there’s a bit about racism in this one. There’s a pub that due to disagreements from the regulars has provided segregation for “coloureds”. Which may or may not have happened – I’ve got no idea. But that’s a statement from the author about the state of the time. What is rather more embarrassing for the author is the assumption that a white man can convincing disguise himself as black by rubbing powdered graphite over his face… Oh dear…

Ignoring that, though, this is a pleasant read. Nothing revolutionary but a straightforward mystery, told well. Well Worth A Look.



    • I presume those are the British Library ones. Tunnel is closer in style to this (and to be fair closer in style to most of Rhode/Burton’s output) but it’s a just-above-average outing in my opinion. There are better books out there, although they generally cost a packet. You basically have to keep an eye out, and then, for the most part, hope the cheapish one you stumble across was worth it…

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  1. Just to say that I managed to snag a couple of Rhode novels on my local Kindle store at low prices… Looks like some are being re-released!


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