If you enjoy difficult puzzles, seemingly impossible crimes and the like, here's a recommendation for one that you're likely to find suited to your taste. It's a death on a moving train that is going through a long tunnel. The victim is shot once with a single bullet through the heart and is found seated inside a locked compartment, his own gun, from which the bullet was fired, nearby. At first it looks like suicide, but is it really? Inspector Arnold and his friend, Desmond Merrion, aren't convinced. That's the mystery at the heart of Death in the Tunnel, by Miles Burton, originally published in the heart of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, in 1936, and newly republished in the British Library Crime Classics series by Poisoned Pen Press. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the whole review by clicking here.
The book begins with the death of Sir Wilfred Saxonby, who seems to have shot himself while the train was in that long tunnel. That’s how his death appears to most people – but Inspector Arnold is intrigued by those details which don’t appear to fit. For example, what is the significance of that mysterious red light seen deep inside the tunnel which, according to the train's driver, caused him to slow the train? Impossible, say the rail workers in charge of that stretch of the line. Why there isn’t even a signal light inside the tunnel at that point – and it would have been impossible for any unauthorized person to get into the tunnel anyway without being seen by workers at each end. And – even if there had been someone in the tunnel flashing lights somehow – what possible connection could there be to Sir Wilfred’s death? How could any murderer have approached his victim, seated, as the latter was, inside a locked compartment in a rail car? On the other hand, if it was indeed suicide, why? Or, if it was murder, by whom, and for what possible motive?
As you can see, the pieces are all in place for an engaging puzzle – and that’s exactly what Miles Burton offers us in Death in the Tunnel. The plot is very tightly constructed; if I have one criticism, I suppose it's that I rather wish the characters had been a little better defined. There’s really not much in the way of developing realistic characters; the suspects seem more-or-less interchangeable, the pawns in a large game of whodunit and howdunit and whydunit. It’s presented as a puzzle, and there’s not much humor in the telling. But if you enjoy a clever plot, you’ll certainly find one in Death in the Tunnel, by Miles Burton. Poisoned Pen Press, which publishes the British Library Crime Classics in the US, provided me with a copy for this review.