The Fatal Pool (1960) by John Rhode

Fatal PoolFramby Hall is the home of Colonel Gayton who has, as you might expect, has gathered together a few friends and family – this is a Golden Age mystery (or, technically, a mystery from a Golden Age author, as this is Rhode’s antepenultimate Dr Priestley mystery from 1960) and, while most of the gathering are at breakfast, Yvonne Bardwell becomes the first victim of The Fatal Pool…

OK, The Fatal Pool is nowhere near as interesting as it sounds – Yvonne has simply drowned and very quickly, marks on her shoulders are found showing that she was held under the water. But as most of the household were eating breakfast together, how could one of them have slipped away and murdered her?

I’ve really enjoyed my stroll through the John Rhode canon (and it’s by no means over) and so far, I’ve enjoyed all of the books, with the exception of Early Morning Murder, but people have warned me that the quality drops off towards the end of the series. So I thought I’d jump forward to book 71 out of 73 of the Dr Priestley mysteries to see if they were right…

Yup. They were right.

Sin Number One: It’s incredibly boring. The crime is investigated meticulously and even though Superintendent Waghorn makes a correct guess about someone’s behaviour early on, he then faffs around trying to prove it rather than confront the individual. It’s just generally slow and, to be honest, pretty tedious. The number of times I had to put this down or that I discovered that I’d read ten pages without taking anything in at all…

Sin Number Two: It all hinges on one crucial fact – in fact, a point remarkably similar to The Telephone Call in fact – something that is basically ignored for a long time in order to drag things out for as long as possible. And something that leapt out to this reader early on, so the murderer was pretty clear to me.

There’s one tiny nice idea – there’s a duality to the notion of the fatality of the pool that is rather clever. But it’s far too little to save this one. The cheapest copy of this one at the moment seems to be about £25 – not what I paid for it, thank goodness – but I strongly recommend that you save your money. Not Recommended.


  1. There is no point in wasting 25 pounds on this book, especially since it is available free at the Internet Archive !


  2. This is why I always thought he was called “king of the humdrums” and why I avoided him for decades until Curt Evans taught me otherwise. I suggest you return to the books published in the 1940s and 1930s. I’ve avoided everything he wrote after Death in Harley Street so as not to have my opinion tarnished by reading his bad books. But I guess there are a handful of exceptions. I just checked on some of those later titles on the GAD Wiki and Nick Fuller gave Up the Garden Path (1949) a 4 out of 5 rating. Oddly, Rhode two books with that title. An earlier one appeared in 1941 under his Miles Burton pseudonym.


    • Was this your first Rhode? If so, that’s a real shame. Most of the Rhode books that I’ve got my hands on are pre-1950, so I’ll concentrate on those with the occasional return to the later books. And thanks for the Garden Path tip – I’ll be careful if either of those become available.


      • No, my first Rhode was actually a “Miles Burton” book: The Secret of High Eldersham way back in 2000 or so, long before I had a blog. I think the first real John Rhode book I read was Tragedy on the Line. I was commenting on your experience of reading a bad book and linking it to his reputation as being a humdrum. I never read this one and I said in my comment I haven’t read any of them after Death in Harley Street which is 1946. Guess I should’ve just written the date. Everyone seems to be misreading my comments lately. I may develop a complex from this. ;^)

        I’ve read dozens of his books — both as Rhode and as Burton — a couple of them are reviewed on my blog if you’re at all interested to discover those that truly “wowed” me. But all that I’ve read were written between 1929 and 1949. And I intend to stay there to avoid the clunkers.


      • That’s probably a wise strategy, although I’ve bought a few later ones already. Although the clunker Early Morning Murder is from that era, so you’re not completely safe…


  3. I remember my mother checking this book out of the library when I was just a toddler. The cover scared the crap out of me. I’m sorry to hear that the book is so lame. As others have observed, the book jacket certainly isn’t!


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