The Secret of High Eldersham is the book which introduces detective Desmond Merrion, who went on to star in a long series of mysteries by Miles Burton aka Cecil Street. On the basis of this book, the popularity of the Merrion books is easy to understand. Although it starts as a straightforward murder investigation, strange behavior on the part of the townspeople and a boat with a strange schedule soon catch the detective’s attention. The result is a book as intricately put together as any mystery reader could ask.
The Secret of High Eldersham does have signs of its time period at points. Readers have to accept a detective who asserts, without contradiction, that the ringleader of whatever is happening must be well-educated because the country people couldn’t possibly be properly educated in folklore. There is, likewise, a quantity of assumptions about the credulous nature of said people.
Desmond Merrion finds time for a briefly built up romance, one that comes out of the blue for the good detective and is a bit stunning for the reader as well. Fortunately, once the romance is set in place, the woman in question turns out to be an asset.
Generally speaking, character development is kept to the minimum; just enough details are given to create the person and no more. The focus is on the plot, which is a wonderful construction of multiple pieces, misdirection, and detection. Burton evidently holds to the idea that the reader should have as much opportunity as the detective does to solve the case, but that doesn’t mean he has to make it easy for reader or detective, and he doesn’t.
All in all, The Secret of High Eldersham is a mystery made to order for people who like puzzle-plots and meticulous construction. It is good to see the Golden Age stories coming back!
The Secret of High Eldersham: A British Library Crime Classic is available from Amazon.