Mystery At Greycombe Farm by John Rhode

GreycombeWelcome to Greycombe Farm, a small farm in the vicinity of Madeuptown, er, Lavercombe in the West Country. It’s home to Farmer Jim and his cider business – until the morning when Jim goes to tap a barrel of his latest batch. Suddenly the shed is engulfed with fire – and when the flames die down, a body is found in the ruins. A body that it transpires, was already dead when the fire broke out…

Major Betterton of the Wessex police force is intrigued – is the body that of a man who left the village months previously? If so, why did he come back – and who was waiting for him? It seems that John Sibley had many enemies who would have killed him on his return to the village – and how did they gain access to the cider shed? Luckily Major Betterton has a friend in London – a certain Dr Priestley…

First off, on the off-chance that you get a copy of this, I wouldn’t try for the edition that was sitting in the “Coming Next” bit on the right-hand side. It contains a massive spoiler on the front cover – so I’ve used a different one to go with the post. Of course, finding an affordable Rhode with dustjacket would be a near miracle, so you’re probably safe.

As I’ve mentioned before, reading a John Rhode novel is like reading an historical novel. Much more so than other writers of the time, Rhode gives a much more detailed of life in the period. I’d love to read one of his books set during wartime, but in the meantime, this will do nicely. We get an insight into cider brewing (apparently there’s more detail on brewing in The Secret Of High Eldersham – coming soon), a Doctor doing his rounds (regular rounds) on a Sunday, a man with an all-consuming habit for fretwork, a detailed discussion on the various sizes of barrels (and the fact that people would buy cider in massive barrels and keep it in their own basement) and the use of the word “forrader” – as in “we didn’t get further forrader in the investigation”. And the lovely turn of phrase, “By jove, that’s a quick bit of mensuration,” a word only seen these days in Maths syllabi.

Meanwhile, back to the mystery. A slightly more straightforward investigation that the other Rhode books that I’ve read, in the sense that you tend to need a notebook and flip-chart to understand the schemes going on. Here, it’s still nicely complex but also much more followable. The story progresses nicely, although does drag a little in the middle third. There is also the problem that there is a massive unasked question by the detectives – part of the crime makes no sense (until the real picture is revealed) but if the problem is pointed out, it would make part of the solution obvious. Even Priestley navigates around the issue rather than using it to solve the crime. I can imagine some people reading the book and not noticing what I’m talking about, but it did stand out to me.

This is unmistakeably a Rhode book – focussing exclusively on the crime solvers as they interview suspects, meet to talk about things, repeat a few times before Priestley solves the crime so that the police can find the evidence. I don’t think it’s as obvious as the gadetection review thinks it is, although it is pretty guessable, but it held my attention throughout and it’s one of the better Rhode mysteries so far. Recommended, if you can find a cheap copy.


  1. Thanks for the review! This is a John Rhode title I haven’t yet read — I’ve only managed about a dozen, so there are many, more under the Rhode and Miles Burton names to get to. You mention an interest to read a wartime-set Rhode title, as his books are so grounded in the details of rural living at the time of writing. I have fond memories of 1942’s “The Fourth Bomb,” which is a straight-forward and enjoyable Dr. Priestley mystery. I have not yet read them, but “Night Exercise” (also 1942, and called in paperback “Dead of the Night”) and “Death Visits Downspring” (from Miles Burton, 1941) also have wartime settings.

    The “Downspring” Crime Club cover shows a vulture perched atop a sign that delivers the book’s blurb: “The enemy in the air aids the enemy below in this exciting mystery set in war-time England.” So there you go.

    Cheers — Jason


  2. “By jove, that’s a quick bit of mensuration,”

    Had to read this line twice – as immediately before this post I had visited the History Girls Blog discussing the social history behind World Menstruation Day. (If it’s any consolation, I then looked up the maths definition.)


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