The Three Corpse Trick by Miles Burton

Goose Common, a village outside of Deaning, the county town of Deanshire, apparently, is a peaceful place, just like any other in a Golden Age murder mystery. Nothing much every really happens there –  the most excitement that happens on June 7th is Wendy Burge going house to house to make her regular collection for the County Hospital. Things pick up the next day when her body is found floating in the nearby river.

As Inspector Arnold and his sleuthing chum Desmond Merrion investigate, it seems that Goose Common, for some reason, has a number of professional villains lurking around. But why would any of them kill a middle-aged woman – surely not for her collecting tin? But when a second body surfaces – literally – it seems that there is more going on in the formerly sleepy village than anyone suspected…

The thirtieth Desmond Merrion mystery from the pen of Miles Burton, the other pseudonym of Cecil John Street aka John Rhode, was published in 1944. This is in itself interesting as the setting of this one is post-war England… thank goodness D-Day worked out. Desmond Merrion, in the preceding books, had been working for Naval Intelligence, but now has been discharged, and basically jumps on the first opportunity to accompany Arnold on a murder investigation.

The tale focuses on Merrion’s investigations as he jumps from theory to theory, rather than Arnold who convinces himself early on who the murderer is (wrongly, obviously) and basically hunts around for evidence, leaving Merrion to get on with things by himself. It’s an interesting reversal from the Rhode Priestley tales where Waghorn or Hanslet will follow the same sort of investigation only for Dr Priestley to pull everything together. Here, Merrion sorts it out for himself, but it only clicks at the last minute for him. It’s an interesting approach, as after a genuine surprise at the end of the penultimate chapter, everything falls into place, but it becomes evident that even our supersleuth has been looking in the wrong direction for most of the tale.

It’s a great tale, this one, on a par with Murder M.D., my favourite of the Burton tales so far. While this does bog down just a little in the middle third, it is still a very strong example of the Golden Age mystery, with one of the best Street surprises that I’ve encountered so far. There’s a couple of dated racial references – Merrion and Arnold don’t have a high opinion of Spaniards – a Spaniard is “just the sort of person one might expect to carry a knife” – or the Irish, and let’s not start on the traveller community – or “diddykaies”, a word so obscure, Google doesn’t think it exists… But ignore them as a sin of the times –  this one is Highly Recommended. You just need to raise £40 to get a copy… unless the British Library wants to revisit Burton and republish this one…

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9 comments

  1. I loved the complexity of this one, I recall actually diagramming the diverse plot strands. This and Murder MD would be my two top recommendations to the BL, not that they ask my opinion or anything. I can’t recall Burton on ”diddies” in this one, but there’s what we in the US would call a homeless person as I recollect in Invisible Weapons. I think there are gypsies in This Undesirable Residence. I think Street tends to have an interest in rural British folkways and culture. The Irish, they do get the potshots, as I discuss in Masters of the Humdrum Mystery. And the feeling likely was mutual, given Streets connection with the British intelligence in the Black and Tan War.

    If you think the attitudes in some corners of British Mystery toward travelers we’re sympathetic in more recent times, check our MC Beaton’s Death of a Traveling Man!

    http://thepassingtramp.blogspot.com/2016/06/ramblin-in-highlands-death-of.html

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    • I was going to (but forgot to) mention that a map would have helped. So no, it wasn’t in mine… I didn’t find it too tricky to follow but it might have made some of the chapters and problems with some of the theories a little easier to sort out.

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  2. I’m with Curt on this. This is definitely one of my favorite Burton mysteries even if I managed to figure out some of the complicated plot. I really got wrapped up in it and I was making notes along the way just like Curt which is probably why some of the clues popped out at me. Have you read THE DEATH OF MR GANTLEY? There is some similarity in plotting in that one with this one, I think.

    The word “diddykaies” is an unnecessary pluralized word. As a collective term it already is plural. Take off the superfluous ES from the end and you get the word you should have been looking for. It’s also spelled diddakoi and diddicoy and various other altered phonetic forms. Diddakoi, as I know it to be spelled, is a name for the Romany people. Didikai is the actual Romany spelling — Street almost had it correct except for making it unnecessarily plural. Guess that’s a way to make the character saying the word more ignorant. Ever since I read The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden when I was a kid I’ve remembered this unusual word.

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  3. Aargh! I just typed up a comment, hit Publish and it didn’t appear. Can you look for it in your spam? I did an mini etymology lesson on “diddikai” and I’m upset it didn’t show up here.

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  4. I didn’t love my first experience of Burton (Death in the Tunnel – sorry!) but I am certainly keen to give him another go. I will have to see if I can persuade a library to ILL this as I like the sound of the book, if not the price tag.

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  5. Never mind about my whining complaint above. Here’s a cut & paste of my original comment that is still lost in digital Limbo:

    I’m with Curt on this. This is definitely one of my favorite Burton mysteries even if I managed to figure out some of the complicated plot. I really got wrapped up in it and I was making notes along the way just like Curt which is probably why some of the clues popped out at me. Have you read THE DEATH OF MR GANTLEY? There is some similarity in plotting in that one with this one, I think.

    The word “diddykaies” is an unnecessary pluralized word. As a collective term it already is plural. Take off the superfluous ES from the end and you get the word you should have been looking for. It’s also spelled diddakoi and diddicoy and various other altered phonetic forms. Diddakoi, as I know it to be spelled, is a name for the Romany people. Didikai is the actual Romany spelling — Street almost had it correct except for making it unnecessarily plural. Guess that’s a way to make the character saying the word more ignorant. Ever since I read The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden when I was a kid I’ve remembered this unusual word.

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