Mystery crime fiction written in the Golden Age of Murder
"This offering in the British Library Crime Classics series is part of a popular subgenre of the time, called the 'railway murder mystery.' The train setting was ideal for encasing a wide variety of people in one place, giving them myriad chances for meetings and murder." Booklist
On a dark November evening, Sir Wilfred Saxonby is travelling alone in the 5 o'clock train from Cannon Street, in a locked compartment. The train slows and stops inside a tunnel; and by the time it emerges again minutes later, Sir Wilfred has been shot dead, his heart pierced by a single bullet. Suicide seems to be the answer, even though no reason can be found. Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard thinks again when he learns that a mysterious red light in the tunnel caused the train to slow down.
Finding himself stumped by the puzzle, Arnold consults his friend Desmond Merrion, a wealthy amateur expert in criminology. To Merrion it seems that the dead man fell victim to a complex conspiracybut the investigators are puzzled about the conspirators' motives, as well as their identities. Can there be a connection with Sir Wilfred's seemingly untroubled family life, his highly successful business, or his high-handed and unforgiving personality? And what is the significance of the wallet found on the corpse, and the bank notes that it contained?
About the Author
MILES BURTON was a pseudonym of Cecil Street (1884-1964), a British soldier who became a prolific novelist in the 1920s. He was the author of approximately 140 detective novels, of which the most highly regarded were published under the names Miles Burton and John Rhode.
Read an Excerpt
Death in the Tunnel
By Miles Burton
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2016 The Estate of Cecil Street
All rights reserved.
The 5.0 p.m. train from Cannon Street runs fast as far as Stourford, where it is due at 6.7. On Thursday, November 14th, it was, as usual, fairly full, but not uncomfortably so.
It was a fine evening, dark, but with no suggestion of fog. Drawn by a powerful locomotive of the Lord Nelson type, the train kept well up to schedule time. In fact it ran through Blackdown station at 5.29, two minutes earlier than it was timed to do.
Beyond the station is Blackdown Tunnel, two and a half miles long. The gradient through the tunnel is fairly severe, and the speed of the train slackened slightly as it entered it. Still, it must have been travelling at fully fifty miles an hour. Suddenly, about half-way through the tunnel, the brakes were violently applied. So violently that William Turner, the guard, was nearly thrown off his seat in the rear van.
His first thought was that the communication cord had been pulled. But on glancing at the vacuum brake apparatus in his van he saw this had not been the case. He left the van, and started along the corridor towards the front of the train, looking into each compartment as he passed. Nearly every seat in the long row of thirds was occupied, but none of the passengers seemed in any way concerned by the slowing up of the train, which was now rapidly coming to a stop.
Turner unlocked the door leading to the first-class compartments. Here, too, all was well. The firsts were not so densely populated as the thirds, but they contained a fair sprinkling of passengers, mostly reading their evening papers. As Turner passed up the corridor, he heard a whistle from the engine. The train, which had slowed down nearly to walking pace, began once more to gather way. Still, it was curious. Turner continued on his way, expecting to meet his assistant from the front end of the train, who might be able to tell him what had been the matter.
He reached the last of the first-class compartments, a smoker, and looked in. Yes, there was the old chap who had given him a quid to keep him a compartment to himself. The application of the brakes had not disturbed him. He had dozed off, with his glasses on his nose, and his paper on his knees. Some big toff, no doubt. Turner remembered having seen him on the line before.
The guard unlocked a second door, separating the firsts in the centre of the train from another row of thirds, in front of them. Just beyond it, he met his assistant, who had walked down the train from the front van. "What's up, Ted?" he asked.
"Everything O.K. my end," replied the other. "I thought Bert must have run over somebody, or something. But he's pushing her along again now, so it can't have been that. Perhaps he dropped a sixpence off the engine, and wanted to go back and look for it."
They exchanged a few more words, then each returned to his own van. Two or three minutes had been lost on schedule by the slowing down and gathering speed again. But this lost time was made good without difficulty. As the train approached Stourford, Turner noticed that the hands of his watch were barely past six o'clock. They would be well on time.
Once more he walked up the train, until he reached the first-class compartment occupied by the big toff, as he mentally styled him. The old gentleman was still asleep, and in the same position, as though he had not stirred since Blackdown Tunnel. Turner unlocked the door between the compartment and the corridor, and slid it back. "Just running into Stourford, sir!" he said loudly but respectfully.
The passenger did not move. So utterly still was he that Turner felt a sudden misgiving. He entered the compartment and laid his hand on the old gentleman's shoulder. This having no effect, he shook him gently. To his horror, the passenger swayed, and appeared to lose his balance. He fell sideways, and subsided uneasily across the arm-rest. Turner, who had been through a course of first-aid, felt his pulse, but could detect no beating. He loosened his collar, and set him in an easier position.
By this time the train was running into the station. Turner went back to the corridor, which in this particular coach was on the left-hand side, opened the window, and put his head out. The station-master was standing on the platform. As the train drew slowly past him, Turner spoke. "I'd like a word with you, Mr. Cutbush," he said quietly.
The station-master opened the door, and swung himself on to the train. "What is it?" he asked.
"There's a passenger in here I don't like the look of," replied Turner. "He was all right when we left Cannon Street, but he's pretty dicky now, I'm afraid."
The station-master entered the compartment. "Hallo, it's Sir Wilfred Saxonby, from Helverden!" he exclaimed. "He went up by the 9.50 this morning, and his car is in the yard now to meet him. Whatever can be the matter with him, I wonder?" As he spoke, the station-master unbuttoned the passenger's overcoat, and opened it out. He started back in horror. On the breast of the dark grey suit beneath it was a patch of wet blood.
Mr. Cutbush was fully equal to the emergency. He wasted no more time in fruitless examination of the body. "Slip out and send a couple of chaps for the stretcher, and then come back here and help get him into the waiting-room. We'll take this coach off here, and I'll take the names and addresses of the passengers in it. And when you've got Sir Wilfred into the waiting-room, slip into the booking- office and tell the clerk to ring up Dr. Frant."
Turner carried out his instructions to the letter. The body was removed from the train, and carried into the waiting-room, at the door of which a porter took up his post to keep out the inquisitive. The booking clerk was instructed to ring up Dr. Frant. Then Turner walked along the platform to the engine. "We're going to take off a first-class coach here, Bert," he said.
"All right," replied the engine-driver. "What's up? Hot box, or something?"
"No. The coach is all right, but there's a toff in it who must have committed suicide. Mr. Cutbush knows him. Sir Wilfred Somebody. He said we were to take the coach off. Thinks the police will want to have a look at it, I expect. By the way, what was wrong with you to pull up in the tunnel like that?"
"There wasn't anything wrong with me. Chap working on the line showed a red light. Then, just as I got to him, he turned it to green. So I came on."
"Chap working on the line!" Turner exclaimed. "There's nothing in the notices about any chaps working in Blackdown Tunnel!"
"I know that. But there was them blinking lights. You ask Charlie. He saw them, just the same as I did."
The fireman, who was leaning out of the cab, nodded. "Yes, I saw them," he said. "Chap was swinging them backwards and forwards, low down, just clear of the rails."
"Well, I'll have to put it in my report, I suppose," said Turner. "I'll get along now and see to the uncoupling of that coach."
The coach was removed and shunted into a siding, where all the windows were closed and the doors locked. The train continued on its journey. At twenty minutes past six, Dr. Frant arrived at the station, where he was shown into the waiting-room by Mr. Cutbush.
A very brief inspection served to show that Sir Wilfred Saxonby was dead. "Not very long, hardly an hour, I should imagine," said the doctor. "Now, let's see if we can find out what he died of. Just help me to undo his coat and waistcoat, and we'll see where that blood came from."
The cause of death was soon apparent. Upon Sir Wilfred's chest being bared, a small wound, surrounded with blood, was found in the region of the heart. A similar wound, but a trifle larger, was found in the back. The two wounds were level, that is to say that had the body been in an upright position, they would have been the same height above the ground.
"H'm!" said the doctor. "Pierced clean through the heart. By a bullet, I should say, though it might have been a very fine stiletto. Let's have a look at his overcoat."
Even in the not very powerful light of the waiting-room, the doctor found what he was looking for. "Here you are!" he exclaimed. "There's a very small hole, corresponding with the position of the wound. And round it you can see some black specks, where the cloth has been burnt. Those specks were made by burning grains of powder. Sir Wilfred was shot with a pistol of some kind, probably a very small automatic, fired at very short range. Has the compartment in which he was found been searched?"
The station-master shook his head. "I'm a servant of the railway company, doctor, not a policeman," he replied. "Every man to his trade, say I."
"Well, perhaps you're right," said Dr. Frant. "The police will want to look into this, and they'll be glad to find things undisturbed. It's a bad job, altogether. You realise, I suppose, that this wound could have been self-inflicted?"
Mr. Cutbush nodded. "Sir Wilfred was alone in the compartment, so the guard informs me," he said.
"Well, the best thing you can do is to get in touch with the police at once. I'll make arrangements for the body to be taken to the mortuary. There's nothing more I can do here, I'm afraid."
It was not long before the police, in the person of Inspector Marden, of the local constabulary, arrived on the scene. As the result of Marden's investigations, it was decided to call in the help of Scotland Yard. Not that there was much doubt as to what had happened, but it was just as well to make sure.CHAPTER 2
Inspector Arnold, of the Criminal Investigation Department, arrived at Stourford early on the following morning. He was met by Marden, who gave him a brief statement of the facts. "I don't think there's any doubt that it's a case of suicide," he said. "But the dead man is a pretty important person in these parts, and my chief is very anxious that everything should be done to clear the matter up. Shall we have a look round the compartment in which the body was found?"
"Hold on a minute," Arnold replied. "I'd like a little more information first. Who was this man, Sir Wilfred Saxonby?"
"A big man locally. Chairman of the bench of magistrates, and that sort of thing. He lived at Mavis Court, a big place near Helverden, about five miles from here. Lady Saxonby died some years ago. Sir Wilfred had a son and a daughter, but they are both married, and don't live at Mavis Court. Since Lady Saxonby's death Miss Olivia Saxonby, Sir Wilfred's niece, has kept house for him. Sir Wilfred was chairman of a firm with offices in the City somewhere, and used to go up to London once a week or so."
Arnold nodded. "Good enough. That'll do to go on with. Now I'm ready to have a look at that railway carriage of yours."
They summoned the station-master from his office; and the three of them walked across the metals to the siding on which stood the disconnected coach. It was nearly new stock, built of steel, a corridor coach of eight first-class compartments, with a lavatory at each end.
Mr. Cutbush produced a railway key, and unlocked one of the doors on the corridor side. They hoisted themselves into the coach, and Marden led the way to one of the end compartments. "This is the place," he said. "Now then, Mr. Cutbush, perhaps you'll be good enough to tell this gentleman where Sir Wilfred was sitting when the train came in."
"The coach was running with the corridor on the left-hand side, facing in the direction in which the train was moving," said the station-master. "This, then, was the front compartment in the coach. Sir Wilfred was in the corner seat, farthest from the corridor, with his back to the engine. None of the other five seats were occupied. The train runs fast from Cannon Street to here. After Sir Wilfred's body had been removed, I cleared everybody else out of the coach, taking their names and addresses as I did so. There were twenty-four other passengers in it. I then locked the coach up securely, and had it shunted to where it stands now."
"Mr. Cutbush and I examined it at seven o'clock yesterday evening," said Marden. "I had Dr. Frant's report, and the first thing I looked for was a bullet-hole in the back of the seat. Well, look here!"
He pointed out a small puncture in the upholstery, so small as to be hardly noticeable. "That's just about the size of the holes in Sir Wilfred's clothing," he said. "They are all about a quarter of an inch, not more."
"What is there behind this upholstery, Mr. Cutbush?" Arnold asked.
"A steel partition dividing this compartment from the lavatory," the station-master replied.
"Let's have a look in the lavatory," Arnold suggested. They examined the wall there, but there was no sign of a bullet-hole. "The steel partition stopped it, no doubt," Arnold continued. "We shall have to strip the upholstery in the compartment if we're to find it. Now what about the weapon it was fired from?"
"We found that, too," Marden replied. "If you'll come back to the compartment, I'll show you. I've put it back exactly where it was."
Arnold saw it for himself as soon as he examined the floor. It was lying under the seat which had been occupied by Sir Wilfred, only a few inches back from the front edge of the seat. Arnold picked it up and examined it. It was a miniature automatic pistol, of foreign make. The barrel was foul, and the magazine contained cartridges. On the butt was engraved a monogram which Arnold deciphered as "W.S."
"Had Sir Wilfred a firearms certificate in which this pistol was described?" Arnold asked.
"No, he hadn't," Marden replied. "I thought of that at once. He had a certificate for a revolver and a rifle, but not for an automatic pistol."
"That's queer," said Arnold. "I don't profess to be a firearms expert, but any one can see that this pistol is nearly brand new. Now, Sir Wilfred cannot have bought it in England without first obtaining a certificate. Was he in the habit of going abroad at all?"
"I believe so," Marden replied. "But you'd better ask Miss Saxonby."
In the rack above the seat occupied by Sir Wilfred was a small leather attaché-case. This also bore the initials W.S. Arnold tried the fastenings, but the case was locked. "Any other luggage?" he asked.
"No, Sir Wilfred had only been up to London for the day," replied the station-master. "He left here by the 9.50 yesterday morning, and was carrying that case then."
The only other objects in the compartment were two newspapers, the Evening Standard and the Evening News, both of the previous day's date. They had both been opened.
"One of them was lying on the seat next to Sir Wilfred," said Mr. Cutbush. "The other was on the floor when I saw it, but the guard, William Turner, says that it was on Sir Wilfred's knee, and that it fell off when he tried to rouse him. Inspector Marden asked me to arrange to have Turner here this morning. He ought to have arrived by now. You can see him in my office, if you like."
Since there was nothing more to be seen in the compartment, they locked it once more, and went to the station-master's office. Mr. Cutbush ascertained that Turner had arrived, and sent for him. "Well, Turner, what can you tell us about this business?" Arnold asked.
"I can't tell you much, sir, and that's a fact," the guard replied. "The dead gentleman came up to me as I was standing on the platform at Cannon Street, about seven or eight minutes before the five o'clock was due to go out. I'd seen him before, travelling up and down, but I didn't know then who he was. 'Are you the guard of this train?' he says. 'Yes, sir, that's right,' says I. 'Well, I want you to find me a first-class carriage to myself as far as Stourford,' he says. And with that he slips a quid-note into my hand."
"What, a pound note!" Arnold exclaimed. "Passengers don't often give you pound notes to keep them carriages to themselves, do they?"
Turner's eyes twinkled. "Well, sir, that depends. I won't say but that now and then a young couple that don't want to be disturbed might slip a note into my hand. But they like coaches with no corridors, mostly. I don't mind that a gentleman like Sir Wilfred has given me a quid before.
Excerpted from Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton. Copyright © 2016 The Estate of Cecil Street. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
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