Legacy Of Death by Miles Burton

legacy-of-death-2Welcome to Forest House, a nursing and convalescent home in the village of Brookfield. Caring for the elderly and the ill, it’s a place of peace and quiet. Apart from the dodgy Brigadier who seems intent on swindling some of the inhabitants out of some of their spare change, there’s not much happening there. But when Mary Tarrant, a widow who just happens to have disinherited her son in favour of one of the other residents, dies in vaguely suspicious circumstances, events are set in motion that are going to bring the House to the interest of Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard and his sleuthing chum Desmond Merrion.

Soon, one of the nurses at the home takes a mysterious plunge off a bridge to her death and it seems that there is a cunning killer who’s plans are far from over…

Book 61 out of 61 of the Desmond Merrion mysteries, written by John Rhode under his Miles Burton pseudonym. The accepted wisdom seems to be that Rhode’s work tailed off badly as his bibliography got longer and longer but as it’s 1960 this month over at Past Offences’ Crimes Of The Century, so I thought I’d take on the final two Merrion books – this and Death Paints A Picture. After all, as I’ve said before, I tend to pick stinkers for this meme by chance, so why not pick a couple on purpose? I’ve looked at a 1960 John Rhode book before, The Fatal Pool, and it is indeed a pretty dreadful novel. But Death Paints A Picture was pretty good, but it must have been an aberration, yes?

Well, no, as it happens. This one is pretty good too. It’s a classic-style mystery with plenty of suspects and a nicely complex scheme from the villain, which is something consistent with Rhode’s work, although the villain is on page for a decent portion of the book, which isn’t always the case. There’s a proper clue that means the reader can work out the villain and it’s a clever one, although there are flaws in the killer’s plan. Let’s just say, the murder on the bridge depends not only on the victim crossing the bridge in question but on nobody else doing so that night. And given the complexity of the scheme, the killer really should know about fingerprints…

Merrion and Arnold are still as bland as ever, but the other characters are nicely and distinctively constructed, and the links between the characters are clearly drawn. This certainly doesn’t feel like a humdrum mystery and really doesn’t feel like a tired author repeating his old tricks.

What does it tell us about 1960?

Not a lot, really. Overseas readers might get a bit confused to references to the football pools and Brasso (was there ever any other brand of brass cleaner?) and it’s not wonderful to hear that women at this point in time had the option of a “secretarial education”. Not sure what the name was for the education that non-secretaries got…

Anyway, this is, a little surprisingly, Recommended. Good luck finding a copy as I think the only time it was printed was the first time around, although naughty people might find a dubiously-sourced copy on the Internet Archive. Your choice…

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12 comments

  1. “….although naughty people might find a dubiously-sourced copy on the Internet Archive. ”
    The books of the author are in public domain in Australia. All his books available in Internet Archive have been uploaded by Jon Jermey, an Australian.
    The Australian copyright laws for books are not as harsh as those in UK or USA. Hence we often find books in Project Gutenberg Australia not available in Project Gutenberg.

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    • Which just highlights the problems of various international copyright laws in the age of the internet – it’s up to the individual if they want to use it if the book’s not out of copyright in their area.

      Of course, if the book was more freely available, people would be less tempted to download a free copy.

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    • And it would taken them all of 10 minutes to implement one of the free / open source geo IP blocking bits of software you can find to enforce that. I enjoy the site but take a really dim view of the fact that they don’t take international conventions into account. A lot of what is on Internet Archive is definitely still in copyright in the US for that matter.

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      • Surely geo IP blocking software is pointless considering new IP addresses can be obtained at will by those with the technological know-how.

        This debate shares similarities with that aired by certain authors (Terry Deary for example) concerning public libraries. These authors passionately object to their books being widely available to read free of charge from libraries by potentially huge numbers of the book reading public (& some also object to books bought second hand which obviously generate no immediate financial return to the author). They feel every book read should be paid for at full book price. However, other authors feel full & ‘open’ access through libraries, second hand sales, book drops or even those illegal sources, greatly facilitates interest in their work promoting income generating sales of books. It’s an interesting conundrum.

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      • Geo IP blocking works pretty well actually – unless you are actually dealing with criminals. Here we are just talking about the vast majority of users. And come on, libraries do give a certain amount back to authors, it’s not free …

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  2. I enjoyed this one too when I went through it earlier this year (I did my own review in February 2016). I thought it was “pleasant but nothing special”, so we seem to roughly agree. I’ve been reading a lot of John Rhode/Miles Burton lately and finding them very repetitive, but this one stood out a little as having, as you say, distinctive characterization. I’m glad we agree!

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