Book Review: Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

British Library Crime Classics, fiction, murder mystery, Death in the Tunnel, train, Miles Burton, Agatha Christie, cozy mystery, detective story, bookstagram, book review

What do you get what you put cozy mysteries, British fiction, detective stories and Agatha Christie-esque crime into one teapot, add boiling water, let steep for five minutes and pour?

Apparently, what you get is a collection of books out known as the British Library Crime Classics!

I first discovered the British Library Crime Classics through a book read-along on Instagram (love the book read-alongs on Insta, especially the Agatha Christie read-alongs, and also a big shout out to @bookishsteph1 for introducing me to the BLCC!). I was intrigued because they seem to be the exact kind of books for someone like moi who has re-read her Agatha Christie books so many times she has them almost memorised and wishes she could one day magically discover a Victorian sideboard in a quaint British country house filled with lost Agatha Christie manuscripts that have never yet been published.

Well, I haven’t yet been able to discover this magical Victorian sideboard, but instead I did stumble upon the BLCC which, as you can guess, are a collection of stories from the Golden Age of British detective novels. Like AC books, most of them are pretty short and easy to read and I’ve already mowed my way through a number of them. You know what this means then – stay tune this month for a review of a number of BLCC books!

The very first BLCC book I decided to try was Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton. How Agatha Christie-ish does this look? A train goes through a tunnel, slows unexpectedly, then starts up again. By the time it gets to the other end, Sir Wilfred Saxonby is dead in a locked first-class compartment. At first it’s thought to be suicide, but then signs begin to show indicating otherwise. Just how did Saxonby die? Who has a motive and an opportunity to kill him and how did they manage to do so and leave the compartment without unlocking the door?

A train murder mystery and a locked room mystery in one – Death in the Tunnel definitely sounded like it was right up my alley! I dove into the book with enthusiasm/high expectations and at first it did not disappoint. There’s murder, British-isms, a dead peer, a mystery and a good number of suspects and motives for the crime. There’s plot and clues enough to keep the murder mystery reader happy and I found myself going back and forth a few times, re-reading the clues and trying to figure out whodunnit before the end.

I did wish, though, that we could have gotten to know the various suspects just that little bit more. One thing Agatha Christie does really well is portrayal of characters – their desires, their problems, their passions, their idiosyncrasies. Someone (I can’t quite remember who now!) once said that a good murder mystery isn’t about the mystery and the detecting so much as it is about the characters. In order to care about the story, we need to care about the characters and I think that’s one thing Death in the Tunnel didn’t do so well at. I felt Burton could have probably got a lot more mileage out of the dead man’s family members, particularly the impoverished relation and the son, who barely existed at all except for a couple of pages towards the end. I’d like to have seen him draw the noose a little tighter around their necks, to apportion blame and motive a little bit more, but there was really nothing there to make my heart beat faster or my palms sweat.

Death in the Tunnel also differed in the fact that the detective and his amateur criminologist friend didn’t end up gathering all the characters together in one room to go over the details of the crime and point out who the murderer was. It was nice to have a change in the way the murderer was eventually pinpointed, but also I must say the ending was very abrupt. If you’ve read the book and gotten to the very last sentence, you’d know what I mean by that!

Having said that, Death in the Tunnel is a fun British crime classic and definitely worth reading if you want a good British whodunnit. It’s definitely not up there with the Queen of Crime’s classics, but if you want something to whet your appetite until the new adaptation of Witness for Prosecution comes out, you could do a whole lot worse than Death in the Tunnel. An ideal read to go with some cucumber sandwiches and a cup of tea in the afternoon.

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  1. Pingback: Book Review: Murder of A Lady by Anthony Wynne The Salonniere's Apartments

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