Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Humdrums Are Hard to Find: Tragedy at the Thirteenth Hole (1933), by Miles Burton

This is not a review, but, rather, an illustration of a phenomenon.  Old copies of mysteries by all three of the authors I write about in Masters of the "Humdrum" Mystery are highly sought by book collectors today, but none more so than those by John Street, written primarily under the pseudonyms John Rhode and Miles Burton.

Many of the John Street novels are rarer then rubies today.  Case at hand: the Miles Burton golf mystery Tragedy at the Thirteenth Hole, published in England eighty years ago by the esteemed Collins Crime Club and not republished since.

I haven't seen a copy of this novel come up for sale in something like seven or eight years.  But here up for auction on eBay is a copy, ex-library (naturally; in the 1930s most copies of detective novels went to rental libraries and were borrowed and read until the literally fell apart) and a second impression, dedicated by Street to the mysterious H. R. T. WHO HAD THE IDEA.

Mr Burnside, a wealthy manufacturer, was playing a round of golf with his nephew on the links of Heavenbeach.  He played the approach to the thirteenth, then walked with his caddie towards the green.  He disappeared into the dip in which the hole lay.  A few moments later, he fell dead, struck on the temple with a golf ball. Well, accidents will happen, of course, even on the best regulated golf courses, but....Inspector Arnold had chosen Heavenbeach as a suitable spot for a quiet holiday and he was mildly puzzled by the apparently insignificant fact that three golf balls were found on the green.  The inspector invites his old friend, Desmond Merrion, to join him, and together they investigate the Tragedy at the Thirteenth Hole, which is certainly one of the most ingenious problems that the fertile imagination of Mr. Miles Burton has devised.

As the above summary illustrates, this is a golf mystery as well, which attracts its own particular community of collectors.  Right now there's one bid on the book, for about $154 U. S. dollars.  Will it go higher tomorrow, when the sale period expires?  We will see. This book is not one of my favorite Burtons, but I do wish copies of it, and all the John Street novels, were more readily available to Golden Age mystery fans.  This one is so rare, even I never had a copy of it (for Masters I read a copy on loan).  Don't worry, though, I'm not bidding on this one!


  1. When I sold my copy of MURDER OF A CHEMIST by Miles Burton on eBay I got $400 for it. It was ugly, battered and foxed and had no DJ. I think I asked for a starting bid of $60, maybe $75, but no more than that because of the crappy condition. But condition didn't matter at all. I was floored by the final sale price. And the bidder promptly paid. If I ever come across rare Rhode or Burton books I immediately sell them on eBay. They always sell at the price I ask for and if I'm lucky -- as in the case of ...CHEMIST -- sometimes they go through the roof!

  2. I just looked at that seller's other books. He has a copy of THE DEAD WALK by Gilbert Collins, a book I reviewed on my blog a few months ago. It has one single bid of GBP 4.99 or $7.69. Now that's a rare book someone is going to get for a real bargain price! I paid nearly $35 for mine. [...grumble, grumble...]

  3. John,

    The book sold for nearly $600 USD, which doesn't really surprise me. A Street novel that rare I normally expect to go for $600. He had been commanding terrific prices for the last decade. I do hope he can be reprinted so more people can read him.

    Gilbert Collins, even most collectors haven't heard of him! You and I may be about it!

  4. I've never seen copies of most of the Rhode/Burton books but I'd certainly like inexpensive reading copies! It occurs to me that these items are so rare that they would still be profitable to reprint after the titles pass into the public domain -- I don't know when or how the copyright would cease to function, though.

  5. Just stumbled over this thread trying to find a price for "Tragedy at 13th Hole" found a copy on eBay a couple of years ago for a tenner! 2nd Impression but not ex-library. Was thinking of selling it but now more tempted to save it for a rainy day.