architecture and murder in the desert

Murder in Perspective

by Keith Miles  –  Walker and Company 1997 clothbound  – historical mystery

Miles pseudonymously writes two historical series as Edward Marston and I enjoy those books, particularly his Domesday series, which I’ll review here one of these days. Miles also has written golf mysteries. Murder in Perspective is also an historical mystery, but set much closer in time to the present.

Young Welsh architect Merlin Richards works for his fathers’ firm designing and building routine, everyday buildings in the small town of Merthyr Tydfil. But Richards has seen the work and read the writings of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and his imagination has been fired by the theory and essence of Wrights’ architectural philosophy.

His fascination causes him to break with his father and journey to America in 1928. Once here he has some rude lessons to learn about American’s and their eagerness to strip an innocent of his property, but he finally makes his way, nearly penniless, to Phoenix Arizona. A few miles outside of town the Arizona Biltmore Hotel (see photo at bottom of this post) is under construction and Merlin Richards is determined to meet his hero and to become his student.

A beautiful young designer, Rosa Lustig gives the hitchhiking Richards a ride to the building site and offers the young man a platonic space in her tent. Within a day she is dead and he is the prime suspect in her murder. As is usual in this type of plot, the protagonist must investigate in order to prove his innocence, or so it seems at first. However the savvy Lieutenant Corbin of the Phoenix P.D. recognizes a setup and Richards is freed and carefully watched as he works his way toward the truth.

The key to the solution lies in the unique architecture of the building and in the personalities of it’s architect and consultant. The Biltmore was not a Frank Lloyd Wright design, he was a design consultant on the job, yet he made many major decisions about the design and engineering of the structure and it clearly shows his influence.

Wright’s irascible nature and gruff personality are well documented and Miles makes good use of them in this story. Merlin Richards is an interesting character and I liked him. I wish there had been more actual practicing of his profession in the book. I admit, however, that as an architecture student myself I no doubt have a greater appetite and capacity for that element of the novel than would most readers.

I found the book enjoyable and will be interested to see what Merlin Richards is up to in his next adventure, Saint’s Rest.

Here’s a photograph I took at the hotel in 2005 – click to enlarge

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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5 Responses to architecture and murder in the desert

  1. Another writer I’m not familiar with. Sheesh! I need to stay away from the internet. The TBR pile grows relentlessly.

  2. Carl V. says:

    When done well I really enjoy fiction that includes historical facts, people, etc. One such example that springs immediately to mind is Jack Finney’s book Time and Again. That book can make you fall in love with the old NYC! This sounds very interesting. Although not all of what Frank Lloyd Wright did appeals to me, I do enjoy architecture. The marriage of art and engineering is fascinating.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    HE’s probably more known under the Edward Marston name, and I rarely had any trouble selling his Domesday or other historical mysteries when I was putting out sales lists.

    This one does sound interesting. I tried one of the Railway Detective ones, which sounded like something I’d like, but just couldn’t get into it at the time.

    Miles was usually at Malice Domestic (don’t know if he still attends) and was a very pleasant guy known for his good sense of humor.

  4. Richard says:

    The Domesday books are really my favorites, Jeff, but I had this one on hand and the review ready to go. I think I’ll do the first Domesday, The Wolves of Savernake, as a Friday Forgotten book and later follow it up with the rest (the ten I have are: The Wolves of Savernake, The Ravens of Blackwater, The Dragons of Archenfield, The Lions of the North, The Serpents of Harbledown, The Stallions of Woodstock, The Hawks of Delamere, The Wildcats of Exeter, The Foxes of Warwick, The Owls of Glouster). I’ll want to do some re-reading before I can post all but the first couple, I think.

  5. Richard says:

    Randy – try the Domesday books, listed in the comment above, first, I think they are the best of his stuff, though many like the Nicholas Bracewell books featuring an Elizabethan acting troupe.

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