Any reader of classic English mystery stories from the so-called Golden Age between the two world wars may be forgiven if they begin to think that life in a small English village, in those days, was far from idyllic. Many mystery authors of the period wrote about those fictional small villages, seemingly so peaceful, where powerful forces and passions led to murder - most of the time, anyway. Certainly, that was the case with a small village called High Eldersham, a town with some very dangerous secrets. You can read all about it in The Secret of High Eldersham, the 1931 novel by Miles Burton which is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the full review by clicking here.
The Secret of High Eldersham was written at a time when the thrillers of Edgar Wallace and others had captured the imagination of the British reading public, so it's not surprising to find that Burton's book combined some detective story elements with a solid thriller. Burton, one of the pen names used by the prolific mystery author Cecil John Charles Street, introduced a series detective in this book named Desmond Merrion. The story begins as a fairly straightforward detective story, with the gifted amateur (Merrion) helping his friends in the police as they try to discover who murdered a local pubkeeper in the village of High Eldersham. But it quickly grows into something quite different - a full-fledged thriller, complete with breathtaking chases, mysterious criminal organizations,the modern practice of medieval witchcraft, and a secret apparently shared by most of the townspeople. There's also a blooming love affair for Merrion – and a great deal of danger for our hero and his beloved.
Curtis Evans, in his critical book, Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery, says that The Secret of High Eldersham "stands out amid the many forgettable formula thrillers of its time in its strongly-conveyed rural setting and in its colorful use of the witchcraft theme." I agree. Miles Burton's book follows the well-trodden path of the Edgar Wallace thriller, but does so in an imaginative and thoroughly enjoyable way.