#374: Spoiler Warning 6 – Invisible Weapons (1938) by John Rhode

spoiler-warning

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to talk about the 1938 impossible crime novel Invisible Weapons by John Rhode, one of the many noms de plume of Cecil John Charles Street.  We — and by “we” I mean myself and Aidan, who blogs at a frankly prodigious rate over at Mysteries Ahoy! — shall be doing this with many and much spoilers, and from this point on will give away, like, everything.

The reader is warned…

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“Aaah!  Spoilers!”

The novel concerns the murder of Robert Fransham in a locked bathroom, having called unexpectedly at the house of Dr. Cyril Thornborough and his wife, Fransham’s niece, Betty.  Found with a fractured skull, the wound being a distinct and unusual square shape, Fransham was alone in the room, and his chauffeur Coates was standing by the car outside and able to swear that no-one came up to the open window to injure him…so howdunnit?  And how to explain the letter found in Fransham’s possession in which Thornborough has apparently invited the old man to lunch…a letter Thornborough denies sending?

In a seemingly-unrelated turn of events, Fransham’s neighbour Sir Godfrey Branstock is then found dead, apparently poisoned in the cellar of his house by sewer gas from a drain.  Are the incidents related?  Well, of course they are, this is a GAD novel, but how?  And with everyone in the locality convinced the doctor killed his wife’s wealthy relative to help ease his own financial difficulties, how does Branstock’s death figure into that plan?  Cue Inspector Jimmy Waghorn, Superintendent Hanslet, and genius amateur Dr. Lancelot Priestley…

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JJ: Curtis Evans, in his examination of Street’s work as part of Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery (2012), says this novel “demonstrates yet again Street’s murderous ingenuity”, and it is rather ingenious.  Rhode is a little pedantic in some of his writing, but I think the essential scheme is very entertining and the book moves at a pretty good pace.  We’ll get into the flaws and successes in greater detail, of course, but how would you sum up your response to it in a couple of sentences?

Aidan: I had a pretty similar reaction to the book. I like the imagination involved in creating these two schemes, though I think the second murder is the more creative of the two. The book undoubtedly has problems, but I think it’s an entertaining puzzle.

One thing I especially liked was the narrative structure of the police investigating the murder of Robert Fransham and having to abandon it at the middle of the book, only for a new problem to arise to start the second half.  Too many times I think the tendency is to rush the genius in so that he can smooth over troubled waters, but I enjoyed the fact that this was structured differently, with a legitimate blank wall being reached and so the thing being shelved.

I totally agree. The format of having his detectives find evidence and then having Dr. Priestley help interpret it, then having a little more investigation before pulling everything together is a wonderful structure. I also appreciated that there is a sense that some time has passed between the first and second crimes when the story starts back up and we learn Hanslet took over the case at one point. Rhode doesn’t necessarily create the impression of a vibrant department because he uses only a handful of characters, but it is nice that the novel acknowledges that this is not the only case Hanslet has some responsibility for solving.

One thing I didn’t enjoy about the investigation is how Priestly just happens to blunder into the key information at the exact time it’s needed.  He goes out the back of 4 Cheveley Street [Fransham’s house] and it just so happens that the chauffeurs are out there talking and it just so happens that one of them had toothache and just so happened to see the incriminating van in the two minutes it was visible in the entire three-week period since it was parked in the garage.  The notion of a police department working together becomes relevant here, I feel, because where someone like Freeman Wills Crofts would make these disclosures feel earned by hours of combined police work, Rhode simply has Priestley waltz into the right situation time and again.  And it’s equally egregious when he finds the four-inch pipe in the garage that has been assiduously swept clean of every other trace of anything at all…that, I’ll be honest, irritated me quite a lot.

It’s odd how Rhode’s attempts to make Priestley seem more brilliant backfire here; you are right — he gets lucky on several occasions in this story. These sorts of chance discoveries can be quite exciting compared to the duller, plodding style of diligent policing, but they undermine the idea that clear logical thinking alone can resolve a case. I suppose even granted his extraordinary run of good luck, though, it does still take a little reasoning to piece the events together. 

Slingshot

Priestley is a little more impressive when he starts to hint at his belief as to how the first murder was accomplished by wittering on about refrigerators. I was curious what you thought of this as a solution to the locked room puzzle Rhode gives us. If the window is left partly open, can you really call it a locked room mystery?

I’ve read another Rhode locked room with an open window — Death Leaves No Card (1944) by Miles Burton — and I minded it more there than I did here.  The fact that the chauffeur Coates was on hand as a witness to swear no-one came up the drive helped, as the window in DLNC is unobserved and so the potential for laziness is more pronounced.  Sure, it’s not a “pure” locked room, but then the only other option is that a section of the ceiling comes loose and something was pushed through a hole from the floor above to smack him on the head (a solution I considered for a few minutes, especially with an architect in the cast)…and that’s equally as problematic.  How about you?  Does the window bother you here?

I wasn’t troubled by the window being opened but I never felt truly puzzled about how the murder might have been managed. The more interesting question for me was how the murder weapon was hidden or operated without the murderer being seen.  Though I have to admit to being a little worried that Rhode was going to pull the whole ‘door wasn’t really locked’ trick on us at one point, as Linton remarks that the door opened more easily than he expected when he broke it down. But I did appreciate that Rhode is pretty thorough about establishing its rules and features by having a police observer be present when the room was accessed.

I thought there may be some misdirection with timings, since while he’s waiting in the consulting room Constable Linton hears a noise that he takes to be Fransham falling down…but in fact could have been something else.  We’re a suspicious bunch, aren’t we?  Someone tells us plainly to out face that an event has the interpretation it should appear to have and we immediately start thinking how that can’t possibly be true…!

The apparent simplicity of the locked room had me anticipating some sort of trick. Instead the first crime is merely setting things up for the second, which is a very different sort of murder — a body made to look as though it has died through natural causes. Rhode makes it clear that this is the crime that Anthony Mayland has been able to plan out in detail, but in a way the planning makes him seem all the more guilty because he is really the only character with the knowledge, the motive and the access needed to pull off the murder.

In contrast, one of the reasons that the Fransham case proves so tricky for the Police to solve is that Mayland has no direct ties to the victim. And, in spite of this planning, didn’t the scheme risk unravelling before it even began? It is presented as a certainty that of course Fransham would want to wash his hands upon getting to his niece’s home, but there is a risk that he may discover the forged note before doing so, putting weeks of preparation to waste (and potentially putting him on his guard against future attempts on his life). And what if Dr. Thornborough and his wife did want to take up that London lease? There are just so many ways it could go wrong for Mayland, even if Dr. Priestley had never become involved with these events!

And Mayland has to be a dab hand with a slingshot, too!  And if Fransham hadn’t washed his face, or if he hadn’t filled the basin with water so the ice cube could fall in and remain undetected, or if the cube hadn’t fallen in the sink at all and so remained on the floor (Priestley later establishes that half an hour is necessary for the cube to melt, so Linton and Thornborough would have certainly seen it even if they didn’t initially understand it)…man, a lot had to come off over and over again, didn’t it?!

Of course!  If Mayland hits the window frame or scores a glancing blow to the head it would have been game over for him. Not to mention when he starts to plan he cannot know the geography of the Thornboroughs’ house or that he might be able to use Alfie’s coat as a disguise (as he wouldn’t know Alfie even existed until he got down to Adderminster)…so what was he thinking he would do when he first conceived of killing Fransham?

And he can’t have known that Dr Thornborough would definitely be out of the house when Fransham arrived, as the doctor’s rounds may have ended early that day, and Mayland’s plan requires he not be present.  And how’s it possible to aim the slingshot through a gap when he can’t see where he’s firing?  Haha, the more you examine it the less sense it seems to make, hey?  One thing I think we can all agree on, though, is how thick-skulled Waghorn is in order to need Priestly to spell out the fact that someone borrowed Alfie Prince’s coat purely so that witnesses would think it was Prince they saw.  I know the genius amateur needs to be smarter than the police, but does that mean your police characters have to be so damn stupid?

I have a soft spot for Jimmy Waghorn from my previous experience of him in Death at Breakfast (1936), but it’s fair to say that this is not his finest hour as a detective. I might charitably say that he is being leaned on to try to find an explanation of how Dr. Thornborough was guilty and so is seeking to catch him in a lie, but his own theory of the coat relies heavily on coincidence and the local police’s characterization of Alfie as a witness. The simplicity of the actual explanation though definitely diminishes our belief in Waghorn rather than bolsters our opinion of Priestley’s genius.

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As a complete side-note, I’m really not a fan of Rhode referring to him as “Jimmy” throughout — mainly because I find it difficult to take a sleuth seriously if they are referred to in the third person by their christian name.  It’s just not done!  See: Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector French, Fell…using their first name is tantamount to hypocorism, and it took me ages to get over Christianna Brand calling Inspector Cockrill “Cockie” in her books.  Mind you, “Jimmy” is possibly easier to take seriously than “Waghorn”…

To me it’s all a part of his character. In Death at Breakfast he comes off as being young, inexperienced and keen to please, so it just sort of fits. Perhaps it is also a sort of subliminal cue to the reader that he is not really very good at being a sleuth whereas we can put our trust in the elderly professor of mathematics because he is exclusively known by his surname.

Yeah, and Hanslet is perhaps more trustworthy on account of his superior rank (and so referred to by surname)…that’s a nice justification, good point.  Onto the investigation, then, and perhaps its most telling flaw: while the neighbour “Frank Willingdon” Jimmy meets is in fact Anthony Mayland in disguise, the character stood out so starkly to me purely because it’s the only time Rhode attempts to give someone any personality.  It could be argued that the excess verbiage and all the tics is why Mayland chose to impersonate him, but from a writing perspective I’d have liked there to be at least one other person with some definable manner of speech or conduct so that this didn’t feel so blatantly like This Guy Is Important, Remember Him.

Definitely. The character stands out as someone who an editor would insist be cut out unless they served some important part in the story because while they are certainly larger than life and so may amuse, the information they impart in their interview does nothing to advance the plot or change our perceptions of the characters involved.

And an astounding amount of what people tell Waghorn or Priestley is simply biographical information which doesn’t really add to the plot in any meaningful way…which I think is why Mayland-as-Willingdon stands out so much: I started immediately looking for how what he was saying, while it appeared to be of no consequence, was opening up possibilities for him to be the criminal.  And lo and behold…

Rhode chooses to structure his novel as two seemingly unconnected cases which means he needs two casts of characters to interview. As a result many of those characters receive fleeting introductions, arriving to impart a piece of evidence or confirm a story and then being discarded rather than being built up as credible suspects. Nancy and her cousin, with a little tweaking to their stories, could have been credible killers, as might Fransham’s chauffeur yet he either misses or opts not to take those opportunities and I feel it makes the real killer all the more apparent.

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Moving away from the crime and detection, I’d be interested in your thoughts on the naked avarice of Godfrey Branstock’s fiancée Nancy Lanchester and her cousin as displayed at the start of the second half.  It’s commonly accepted — even expected — that younger women marry older men for their money, but I don’t remember it being so brazenly put on the page in this sort of book before.

I certainly have read other books from this era that have presented similarly cynical views of marriages with a substantial age difference (the first Poirot novel for instance, though there it is an older woman with a younger man). I think what makes this stand out a little is her cousin’s attempts to reinforce her position by trying to take possession of the property. I rather appreciated that it was directly laid out for us on the page rather than just alluded to.

I don’t remember ever seeing it so baldly and frankly stated, and like you I appreciated it being something that is actively confronted rather than being left for us to imply or hear about second- or third-hand.  If we’re going to demonise someone for being a pecuniary bastard, it’s nice to know that they actually are a pecuniary bastard (mind you, see my earlier comments re: doubting something we’re explicitly told…)

You could well be right — this is usually the stuff of innuendo. I imagine that we have to see it to think that there is a chance that Anthony Mayland is a real victim of this situation — Hanslet even takes sides in Mayland’s dispute with her at one point, agreeing that he should retain possession of the property until he is able to get professional advice.

Oh, yes, I hadn’t thought of the whole “Mayland as victim” misdirection, with Rhode putting him in a sympathetic situation so that we overlook his potential motive.  Alas, I’ve read a lot of GAD and so Cui bono? is always a siren call…!  Are there any other aspects of this that don’t pertain to the crime that you wanted to mention?

Slingshot

A part of the book I particularly enjoyed was the short sequence in which our sleuths consult a handwriting expert who provides remarkably little useful information. Everything is of the ‘it might be this, or it might not’ variety. I am not sure if Rhode intended it to be funny and it certainly doesn’t move the plot forward much if at all but it made me smile.

One of the key things I took away from this book that in no way advances the plot is just how damn huge the ice cubes old-timey refrigerators made were: two inches to a side in some cases?!  Good heavens, that wouldn’t even fit in most glasses!

The fact that not all the houses have refrigerators and they are clearly still regarded as luxury items is one of those lovely little details you get that gives you such a strong sense of the time in which it was written.

Also the way that certain cigarettes can only be bought in certain shops, and the people who run those shops are of course fully up to speed with their preferred customers and their orders…as much as I gripe about convenience above, that feels like a very natural consequence of this era and the availability of niche products like those damn cigarettes that no-one seemed to like.  I’m also amused by the dismissal of “the reading of light fiction” not counting as a hobby — that’s pretty much the only hobby I have…

One more word about those cigarettes. It strikes me that Mayland tries so hard to implicate Thornborough for the first crime that he ends up drawing far more attention to the staging of his crime. The tidy, neat crime scene narratives he tries to create are really his undoing. 

Any final thoughts?

I left wondering about the fate of Dr. Thornborough whose practice is irreparably harmed by the widespread belief that he was responsible for Fransham’s death in spite of the locals acknowledging that he is a good doctor. He ends up becoming a third victim in all of this and yet it doesn’t seem that his life will be repaired by the events at the end. Given he has done little to bring this on himself, other than being a little reckless with his finances, I do wish he had a little closure.

That’s an excellent point; he seems like a fundamentally decent man, and obviously worked hard to get where he was — to have that taken away through no fault of his own is rather callous.  The lack of a really human element in the narrative meant that I overlooked this, but it would tie things off nicely if we knew he and his reputation weren’t completely ruined by the experience.  Any happier final thoughts?

I am excited that these Dr. Priestley stories are finally getting back into print and I hope that these reissues are successful enough that more will follow.  I had a great time reading and discussing this, and I look forward to hearing other people’s thoughts about the book.

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So, that’s us, now over to you — whaddaya think of this one?  Are we being unfair in our dissection of Mayland’s extreme run of good fortune, or does the whole thing ring false?  And what have we missed?  Spoilers fully encouraged in the comments below since, well, anyone skipping down there is hardly unprepared for stuff being spoiled.  Let’s get into it…

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Previous Spoiler Warnings on The Invisible Event:

1. The Peacock Feather Murders (1937) by Carter Dickson [w’ Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel]

2. Death on the Nile (1937) by Agatha Christie vs. He Who Whispers (1946) by John Dickson Carr [w’ Brad @ AhSweetMysteryBlog]

3. Rim of the Pit (1944) by Hake Talbot [w’ Dan @ The Reader is Warned]

4. And Be a Villain (1948) by Rex Stout [w’ Noah @ Noah’s Archives]

5. The Problem of the Wire Cage (1939) by John Dickson Carr [w’ Ben @ The Green Capsule]

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Given that Aidan is also partaking in the Just the Facts Golden Age Bingo challenge, I’m going to exploit this collaboration of ours to fulfil the category Has been read/reviewed by a fellow challenger at any time.

59 thoughts on “#374: Spoiler Warning 6 – Invisible Weapons (1938) by John Rhode

  1. I liked the pace of this as it moved along fine and I had issues with the chance discoveries – I too felt they kept the story moving when a more Crofts-like approach would have buried the whole thing in the kind of plodding (if realistic) procedure that kills a story stone dead for me.

    Is it a locked room mystery – I think so as the window part didn’t trouble me. There has, after all, to be a solution that makes the thing physically possible. If anything, I thought the whole setup and execution of the first murder was way to tricky and needed too many factors to fall into place at the right time and in the right order. And then I’m never all that enamored of solutions involving projectiles which (ice, salt) can dissolve. I can think of at least one Carter Dickson book, which I otherwise love, that uses a trick like that and I don’t really buy it.

    I had spotted the killer early enough, simply because his character as an apparent stuffed shirt and an utter prig suggested it. Remember the first victim was, by all accounts, a judgmental tightwad and something of a lazy git, and he came to a sticky end.

    On to the detectives.I was deeply unimpressed by the policeman in the only other book by this writer I’ve so far read – Death in the Tunnel using the Miles Burton pseudonym – and felt he was not only seriously stupid but unnecessarily pig-headed too. Jimmy Waghorn (yes, a quite shockingly awful name in every respect) is better even if he’s still not the sharpest knife in the kitchen. Hanslet had seniority, and while he’s not just as big a rube as Inspector Arnold in “Tunnel”, he comes across as a closed-minded dullard and you wonder how on Earth he attained the rank he holds. Priestley was fine and I actually found him rather refreshing.

    • Yeah, it seems that we’re in pretty consdierable agreement here, Colin, apart from your assertion about Crofts. 🙂 I think this reputation that Crofts has for “plodding” isn’t entirely fair — a lot of what French does is very perceptive, and that level of rigour brought to bear on a physical problem is something I find rather thrilling (I don’t expct evryone to agree, though…). It’s not as if he strings out deductions that are obvious in the way a lot of other authors frequently do…but then we’re into a very different conversation from the one we should be having!

      I’m absolutely with you on Inspector Arnold in Death in the Tunnel — there are times that he comes across like a complete arse-biscuit, and you wonder how and why anyone helps him at all: how because he seems so close-minded and why because he’s so very unpleasant. Waghorn and Hanslet may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, but at least they seem like decent folk.

      • I know,, I was being a bit unfair on Crofts and my recent experience with him has been more positive so I was ribbing a bit. Tat said, I don’t mind a bit of good fortune or lucky timing aiding a detective as I don’t think it’s too far removed from reality for a the odd coincidence or a chance incident helping someone out.

        I’ kind of liked Jimmy as he seemed to have his heart (if not always his brain) in the right place but I feel the jury is still out for Hanslet.. I don’t say he was as much of a tool as Arnold but I did feel he was nudging in that direction. I’d need to read more material with him before I could say one way or another.

        • Either way, I think we can agree that Rhode/Burton seems far more interested in his genius amateurs than he does his professional policemen…!

          • Indeed, and and I didn’t mind Priestley at all – I’ll try to read more with him and I have a copy of The Motor Rally Mystery sitting on my shelf as it happens. I don’t particularly care if I never read another Merriman story though.

            • Yeah, Priestley and his cohorts do seem to be the A-Team from Street. Mystery at Olympia is one of the reprints in this series and sounds like it could be fun — I think I’ll head there next with Rhode. Perhaps more will follow, too, which would be nice.

            • I may pick that up too, and these reprints are rather nice editions – well bound and an attractive font to boot – so I’ not be averse to seeing a few more.

            • Yes, my mistake on the name. So far, taht’s the only title by Burton I’ve read. While I didn’t think it was terrible I did have some problems with the book – the obtuse and unpleasant Arnold being one of the most notable.

    • I think that Rhode gave himself a lot of plot to get through which does explain, if not excuse, the elements of chance he uses. The other Rhode/Burton books I have read do not feature so many chance discoveries.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about whether we can call this a locked room. I agree with you that it is hard to see why the murderer would devise such a complex plot with so many elements that need to work correctly.

      I hadnt given much thought to the question of whether the first victim was a deserving corpse but it’s interesting that Rhode seems to think both Fransham and the Doctor represent two extremes of money management. His niece meanwhile is treated as a child and we may question whether Fransham’s choice to put the money in trust would have resulted in greater happiness for her.

      • This book wasn’t exactly chock full of likeable characters, was it? Jimmy was fine and so was Priestley but few others came off all that well. The second victim sounded like a bit of an old rip but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I reckon the “elderly” chauffeur Coates was a bit maligned, – most of the others were presented in a not very flattering light though.

        • I liked Branstock, for what it’s worth. The idea of him being almost over-social and throwing these wild shindigs much to the disdain of his young charge amused me hugely. After all, it’s usually the other way around.

          • Agreed. In a book where so many characters seemed to frown on the notion of spending a (inherited) penny on such base pursuits as having fun he came across as a real breath of fresh air.

          • And he takes care of a stepson financially that he could easily have ignored him after his wife died. Had he behaved with callous indifference he probably would have lived to a ripe(r) old age…

      • …but everyone knows that a woman with money isn’t safe in the GADniverse. Good heavens, you can’t trust those pretty little things to take on any fiscal responsibility — hurrum, my good sir!

  2. The point that the killer wouldn’t have been able to see to take aim surely applies equally in a locked-room mystery that is widely regarded as a classic (I’m sure you’ll know which one I mean)…

    And how do you feel about the cover art?

    • If we’re thinking about the same book, I’d say that in that case the killer was much closer to the apeture than here — here’s he’s a nine foot-wide driveway away and a few feet in the air, increasing the chance of the shot going awry when taken “blind”. In…the other book…they’re right up against the gap they’re firing through. But, yeah, it’s still a blind shot. Always a risk.

      Controversially, I love this cover art. I know it’s ridiculous and looks a little silly, but you can be in no doubt that it’s something from this era when you pick it up. The other Rhodes reissued by Harper also have their original cover art, and I hope this is a trend that continues. It was such an evocative era for book design, I’m really enjoying seeing these covers back in shops and on my shelves.

      • I like this cover art too, and at least you can’t accuse it of containing a spoiler – unlike my copy of Dead of the Night (aka Night Exercise). Unfortunately not all GAD art is this good – Bricklayer’s Arms has one of the worst covers I’ve seen, and if anyone reprints that one (which would improve Waghorn’s reputation, as he solves it himself with no real help from the prof) they really should get a new one.

        • Is Bricklayer’s Arms (not the most exciting title, is it!) the one with the predominantly yellow cover? If so, I wouldn’t say it’s that bad and I’ve most certainly seen worse.

          • Yeah, I looked it up online and — always assuming that is the over we’re talking about here — I actually quite like it. But then I do have a sort of…the best I can dois “nostalgia” even though that’s not correct…for this era of book design. There’s an earnestness in the graphics used that warms my heart, in stark contrast to how the more impressionistic cover designs of today (a tree by a window, possibly rain on the window, and a shadowy figure in the background — there you go, that’s every unreliable narrator book from the last five years) leaves me utterly cold.

            • That’s about the way I feel too. Blurry monochrome photograph of a figure in the middle distance, turned away or walking away, just makes me want to put a book right back on the shelf.

        • Spoilers in cover art is infuriating. There’s a Carr novel and a Crispin that suffer from this, and you honestly have to wonder what the hell happened there. It’s tantamount to putting “The novel where X is the killer!” on the cover, and everyone responsible for this sort of thing should be, I dunno…I’d say “spoiled on every book they ever intend to read”, but evidently that wouldn’t phase them.

      • It’s not the design that’s the problem for me, but the poor execution (this may not be evident when viewed at less than full size).

        • Haha, well I suppose you can console yourself over the disappointment of having to look at it full size by considering how fortunate you are to have tracked down a copy of the book… 🙂

  3. OK, my turn to pitch in.

    First off, the impossible murder is not great in my opinion. As you point out, it needs a) pinpoint accuracy with an abnormally shaped missile and an unreliable weapon (despite the practice), b) a ridiculous amount of luck for the missile to be fatal, ill health or not and c) the victim to choose to be in place at the right time.

    To pick on a couple of other points, Jimmy is always called Jimmy throughout the series. By the end, he is Superintendent Waghorn (Hanslet retires before the war, comes back during the war, and then joins Priestley’s inner circle while Waghorn does the investigating). Indeed, in a newspaper promo for the later Murder At Derivale, it is referred to as “a Jimmy Waghorn mystery”. At the time, Jimmy was used a lot more as an adult name – clearly he chooses to be called by it.

    Jimmy’s not on best form, in my opinion, here, as he needs Priestley to point out that the mysterious person wearing the tramp’s coat MIGHT NOT BE THE TRAMP! It’s common for Priestley to point out a little thing that Waghorn might have missed but it’s usually not this obvious.

    Overall – I don’t think this is top drawer Rhode, like Death In The Tunnel isn’t top drawer Burton, although it’s probably in the second quartile. Mystery At Olympia is certainly on a par with this one, if not a little better, but I wish the Crime Club would reprint the titles that really show Rhode at his best, like The Robthorne Mystery or Death On The Board.

    • I did think that our murderer would have been just as undetectable as a killer if he had put on a silly moustache and a slightly unusual hat and knifed him in the street. The whole point that he lacks a direct motive does not require this much preparation though I can see the benefit of getting the two crimes investigated by two different police forces (I imagine he was not anticipating that the local force would call in the Yard for the first murder).

      One thing I wondered about when reading Death at Breakfast was whether we are supposed to see a generational and training difference between Waghorn and Hanslet. Presumably given when he was introduced Waghorn was a product of Hendon and so a graduate while Hanslet presumably trained within the force. In that story Waghorn certainly seems a sharper and more creative thinker than his supervisor, even if he is badly off form here.

      Murder at Olympia is probably next on my pile for Rhode so, given I enjoyed this, I am pleased to hear you consider that to be as least as good. Hopefully more Crime Club releases will follow!

      • Unfortunately Hendon’s First Case is one of the earliest Rhode titles that I don’t own. The impression that I have is that he is a dynamic young whipper snapper to complement Hanslet’s experience – he saves Hanslet’s life from the killer on more than one occasion – but I haven’t read too many where they are together for any length of time.

        As for your first point… isn’t that true of at least 50% of Golden Age crime?

        • I do appreciate that Waghorn and Hanslet work so constructively together and there is a sense that he is being allowed to use his initiative to grow. I am curious to read some of the later stories where he has become Superintendent to see how the dynamic changes.

          And yes, you are quite right about how this reflects GAD more broadly. I think what makes this a little different is that it is rarely to have a situation where the killer is not really known to the victim. Point taken though!

          • There aren’t many books with them both on the case. Jimmy arrives in 1935. By the war, Hanslet has retired, so soon after 1938’s Invisible Weapons. He returns during the War books as Jimmy is on secondment to the War effort. I can’t cite the exact books but Waghorn is the sole sleuth in 1940’s Death On The Boat Train but Hanslet is back for 1943’s Dead On The Track. No idea about the books in between, as they are some of the hardest to get hold of. Men Die At Cyprus Lodge (1943) has them both, as Jimmy’s hunting for spies while Hanslet investigates a murder. No idea about the next book but in 1944’s Vegetable Duck, Jimmy is back in the saddle and Hanslet has retired again. Thereafter Hanslet only ever surfaces in the meetings with Priestley as one of his brain-trust.

            • Interesting. Thanks for sharing that information. It is interesting that these rereleases included several joint cases if they are exceptions to the norm.

      • I think the problem with this impossible crime setup is that it’s made deliberately complex by the criminal. For me, the best impossible crimes have always been those where the impossibility only arose by chance – that is the criminal wasn’t planning on creating a situation to purposely bewilder the police as regards how it was all done. Sure the murderer will want to do his/her best to conceal their identity but deliberately coming up with schemes to make the investigators scratch their heads over the question of how steers us into a very artificial place. In this case there was no reason for the killer to engineer (and that’s precisely what he does) a situation which is guaranteed to have the police concentrating extra hard.

        • I can only think that he was anxious to make sure that only the Doctor might be implicated but in doing so he made the case more memorable for the police involved. If the police didn’t connect the two crimes he may have stood a better chance of getting away with it.

          • Exactly! I would have thought a criminal’s main aim would be to get away with it, and what better way to do that than lull the authorities into believing nothing untoward (or as little as possible anyway) occurred. This kind of stuff, on the other hand, is bound to grab the attention of even the most unimaginative investigator. I like it when an apparent impossibility only arose as a result of some random and unpredictable event.

            • That is part of the genius of the (much better conceived) second murder. I think Rhode comes up with a clever way of making it look like an accidental death rather than murder.

            • in fact, it’s such a superbly undetectable murder method that the killer has to leave the pipe there just so we can ascertain that it is murder. Which is probably the part of the whole book that irritates me the most…!

        • Yeah, the need for the first crime to be impossible — or to be committed in the way it was — eludes me somewhat. The method of the second crime is very well justified, but I think the first one is just Rhode being clever. Not that I mind a GAD author being clever, it just doesn’t bear much scrutiny for all its ingenuity.

          • See my other reply: I reckon the real ingenuity on the part of an author takes place when he comes up with a tricky impossible situation and shows that it was mostly accident and wasn’t actually supposed to appear as such in the first place.

    • I’m pleased that Olympia is roughly on par with this, because I ejoyed this and that one sounds like it could be equally as entertaining. You’ll feel the weirdness of these particular titles being chosen in the same way that the smattering of Carrs available at present mystifies the hell out of me. But, well, at least some of them show him doing what he does well (for both authors, I suppose).

      Could I trouble you for a top 5 Priestley of those you’ve read?

  4. Interesting point about first names… there are a few (adult) series sleuths who get this treatment from their writers. Ellery Queen, Roger Sheringham, Asey Mayo, Leonidas Witherall, Nigel Strangeways, Ben Safford… I think we could count Sir Henry Merrivale too, since “H.M.” is not just a set of initials, but a nickname people call him.

    • Never thought about it with Ellery Queen, but I always saw Berkeley calling Sheringham “Roger” as a deliberate attempt to further undermine his detective, and had meant to mention this to Aidan in my comments above. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Hanslet is in Death on the Boat Train. I think in the wartime books Rhode usually manages to shoehorn both Jimmy and Hanslet in there, even if one of them just has a very small role.

    Interesting discussion, a few years ago I never thought I would see such a detailed one on the net about Street’s books! Having read all the books I definitely have my favorites and have let HarperCollins know my own recommendations, but I didn’t have any input whatever into this group.

    Mystery at Olympia is a fun book, though not at the top, I think. Paddington is not good, imo, as anyone who has read Masters will know, but I suppose they wanted to go with Dr. P.’s debut.

    • I think I’ll head to Olympia next if only because — for reasons I cannot even begin to explain — Death at Breakfast doesn’t appeal to me. Yes, it’s entirely irrational. I make no defence of this.

      And, yeah, my understanding is that Paddington is not the most successful of books. Perhaps one to save for if/when I’ve been bitten in the same way as Puzzle Doctor…

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