Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

A locked train carriage mystery…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

When Sir Wilfred Saxonby is found dead in a locked carriage in a train, it looks like it must have been suicide, for how could a murderer have got onto and then off a moving train? But Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard can find no evidence that Sir Wilfred had been suicidal, and those who know him find it impossible to believe. And there are one or two odd things – like the mysterious red light that caused the train driver to slow down while the train was passing through Blackdown Tunnel, or the fact that Sir Wilfred apparently used an unlicensed gun even though he owned several licensed ones. Arnold can make no sense of it, so consults his old friend Desmond Merrion, a man with a gift of imagination that sometimes enables him to make sense of the seemingly senseless…

Although there’s a slight whodunit aspect to this, mostly it’s a howdunit, with the mystery revolving around various aspects of how the crime could have been committed, and who had alibis and who didn’t. It starts out well – the point about the red light and slowing train is intriguing, and the solution to that aspect, which comes quite early on, is fun. But then it kind of collapses into a morass of ever more complicated, and ever less interesting, speculation as to how the unnamed murderer or murderers did the deed, with Arnold and Merrion each spouting theory after theory, only for the next fact to come along and change everything.

This felt very different in style to the only other Merrion book I’ve read, The Secret of High Eldersham. That one had a wonderfully creepy atmosphere and aspects of a thriller, in that Merrion and others were put in peril. Merrion also had an enjoyable sidekick in it. This one had none of that – it is a cerebral puzzle with no peril and therefore very little atmosphere. Whoever turned out to be the culprit, I feel I’d have met it with a mental shrug, since none of the suspects were developed in a way to make me care about them. Having said that, Merrion himself is likeable and not nearly as insufferable as some of these brilliant amateur ‘tecs, and Arnold too is quite fun, even if he’s not exactly the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

Miles Burton

Although it’s well written and will probably appeal to the puzzle-orientated reader, I gradually found myself losing interest. I had decided on the most likely suspect fairly early on, and found it odd that neither Merrion nor Arnold seemed to be spotting what seemed like fairly obvious indicators. But I had no idea why the crime had been committed, and was disappointed that when all was revealed it was clear that the reader had had no chance to work that out, since the required information was withheld until very close to the end.

Overall, then, I found the plotting rather dull despite its “impossible” cleverness, and felt too much emphasis was given to the puzzle aspect at the expense of developing any sense of atmosphere or tension. However, it’s redeemed a little by the quality of the writing and the likeability of the two leads, Merrion and Arnold.

Book 7 of 12

This was the People’s Choice for July, and it was more enjoyable than not, so we’ll call that a success, People! 😉

Amazon UK Link

23 thoughts on “Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

  1. You know, it’s funny, FictionFan. I usually do enjoy an intellectual puzzle. They can be very entertaining. But over the years, I’ve gotten more and more interested in characters, and I’ve come to have much less interest in novels where there’s only puzzle and no character development. The story sounds interesting on some levels, but I can see how you’d lose interest if you don’t care about at least one of the characters.

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    • I’ve never really enjoyed books that rely so heavily on the puzzle aspects, possibly because I don’t have the patience to try to work them out. I’m quite happy for there to be a puzzle, though, so long as there’s an interesting bunch of characters too. This one was weighted too heavily towards the puzzle for me, though I admit it was well done. I can quite see it working better for real fans of the “impossible crime” style of story.

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    • Yes, 3.5 definitely counts as a success overall, though I had higher hopes for this one. I’m never a fan of books that rely quite so heavily on the puzzle aspects – I can quite see this appealing more to people who enjoy the “impossible crime” style of novel. I must admit the light and the train were very good and added a mysterious element to the whole thing – I felt it was a pity that aspect got explained quite early on, though I saw why he had to do it.

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  2. I think I might have voted for this one (maybe?), based on the blurb. And while I’m glad it wasn’t awful, I’m sorry it wasn’t all you’d hoped it would be. A puzzle mystery can be interesting, but it’s characters who make a story compelling, don’t you agree?

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    • Yes, I never find a mystery as interesting if the characters aren’t well developed. The puzzle aspect is important but I don’t like when it’s the only thing. However, I still enjoyed it overall, so it still counts as a winner!

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  3. Patience is one of your many virtues. I’m reading a book right now, where I’m tending to only see the puzzle instead of character development, and it makes me want to put it down. I may do so, as I am such a slow reader, and have so many more on my stack. I’m think you were fairly generous here with your review.

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    • I tend to stick with them more if they’re part of a challenge or, as in this case, the People’s Choice, although even then I’ve abandoned a few! But I always prefer a book where the characterisation is more important than the puzzle element.

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  4. I don’t think I voted for this one, but would have to look back to be sure. I’m not good about figuring out mysteries, especially not ones like this. I’m glad you didn’t consider it a fail.

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    • I think that’s partly why I’m not so keen on the puzzle type of mystery – I can never work them out, and I’m not even really interested in trying to. I much prefer books where it’s all about the characters and their motivations. But it was still more enjoyable than not, so a win!

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    • Haha, I’ve actually had loads of good reads from the People’s Choice – it’s just that everyone remembers my one-star reviews more than my raves! 😉 Yes, this one was fine, but not as good as I’d hoped. Oh well!

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  5. Hmm I liked the idea and premise of this novel, but I can see why it falls a bit short in the suspense category If it becomes too much like a puzzle with no danger attached to it, there’s little reason to push through all the theories. Too bad…his other one sounds right up my alley though!

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    • Yes, I’m never keen on mysteries where the puzzle is the most important bit. I prefer characters and motives to be at the centre. His other one worked much better for me, especially the more thriller feel of the ending.

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  6. That’s a shame, this quite appealed to me as a variation on a locked room mystery. It does sound as if it got a bit bogged down though. I also enjoyed The Secret of High Eldersham so I’ll probably still give this try, with lowered expectations!

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    • I’m never a fan of locked room mysteries where that’s the most important aspect, so I suspect real locked room aficionados would enjoy this more than I did. But I much preferred High Eldersham – this felt like a completely different style.

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  7. […] Death in the Tunnel has been reviewed, among others, by Jason Half, Chris Simmons at Crime Squad, Kate Jackson at Cross-examining Crime, Guy Savage at His Futile Preoccupation.…, TomCat at Beneath the Stains of Time, Steve Barge at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Les Blatt at Classic Mysteries, John Cleal at Crime Review, Sergio Angelini at Tipping My Fedora, Jim Noy at The Invisible Event, Bill Pronzini & Newell Dunlap at Mystery File, Jacqui at JacquiWine’s Journal, Nick Fuller at The Grandest Game in the World, Bev Hankins at My Reader’s Block, Margaret at BooksPlease, and fictionfan at FictionFans’s Book Reviews. […]

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