Death Takes The Living by Miles Burton

The Reverend Jonathan Denby is looking for a parish. Despite being well connected – the son of a peer and the cousin of a high-ranking Member of Parliament – he is looking for a quiet parish where he can do some good, rather than a political appointment. He finds that parish in the seaside community of Clynde – but things are going to prove more difficult than he imagines.

There hasn’t been a rector there for a long time, and the rectory has fallen into disrepair, half of it being completely inaccessible. There are even tales of it being haunted. But he chooses, against the advice of the local landowner, to stay there, but on his first night, he hears strange noises coming from the sealed-off area. And then he vanishes without trace, his body turning up a day later floating in the sea…

I thought I’d take a look at this as I’ve been concentrating on John Street’s work produced under the John Rhode pseudonym, but the later Rhode books are generally considered weaker than the later Miles Burton ones, so I picked this one, more or less at random. So, was it a wise choice?

It starts really well. The first quarter of the book deals with Denby arranging and then moving to the parish and it’s a well-written enjoyable section, dealing in part with Street’s strength at portraying village life (via, as usual, the pub). There’s some lovely little touches – Denby’s lunch consisting of two stale rolls and some meat paste, as this is after all in the time of rationing, for example. In almost any other book, Denby would go on to solve a mysterious crime – he feels like an amateur sleuth character, and he’s very well-developed. So when he was murdered, it was a surprise to me as I hadn’t read the blurb, although the US title, The Disappearing Parson, kind of gives it away.

Inspector Arnold and Desmond Merrion soon show up and things go downhill from there. The rest of the book has little to do with the background developed for the victim – there’s a subplot that does touch on it, but to be honest, it’s a distraction. Having said that, it’s a welcome distraction, as the main plot is dull in the extreme.

Street does on occasion delve into criminal schemes for smuggling, robbery, etc, for example Proceed With Caution, but it never really works for me, with the scheme distracting from the story. And this is a particular bad example. The final quarter is basically dealing with who did exactly what, and the identity of the murderer is almost an afterthought, lacking any sort of imagination or excitement.

It’s quite stunning how such a promising opening leads to something that gives The Pit-Prop Syndicate a run for its money – read that review to see what I mean. Oh, and if any criminals are out there wanting tips, pretending somewhere is haunted (by dressing up in white sheets, no less) doesn’t work. Well, it shouldn’t, but it does here, for a bit at least.

In case you haven’t guessed, Not Recommended.

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