“Your progress, Inspector, is not unlike that of a man in rubber-soled shoes trying to cross a frozen pond. You take a step in one direction, but the slippery surface betrays you and you find yourself going off at a right angle.”
Mr and Mrs Fransham sat down to eat their dinner, but before he could even touch his starter, a mysterious phone call lures Fransham away. Returning from the hoax call, he enters his lodging with his neighbour who he met on the stairs, only to find his wife dying – killed by the vegetable duck!
Inspector Jimmy Waghorn is soon on the case, and his suspicions fall immediately on Fransham – there seems to be no one else who could have perpetrated the crime. But all of his theories fail to take into account a strange letter – something that Dr Priestley insists needs to be explained. Can Jimmy get to the bottom of the mystery by himself?
First off, I suppose I’d better tell you about the mysterious vegetable duck. It’s a stuffed marrow, basically, and if ever you want to read a treatise on how to evenly poison a marrow, then I’d highly recommend this book. More on marrow poisoning than you could ever need to know. But that’s the nature of Rhode – he feels the need to dot every “i” and cross every “t” in the investigation` but he still manages to fascinate this reader while he does it.
It’s a pretty standard Rhode formula – Waghorn follows lead after lead with occasional visits to Priestley who basically just nods or shakes his head sagaciously and, in this case, explains how the trick with the letter was done – but it’s Waghorn who actually solves the crime. And as is usual with Rhode, the criminal’s scheme is long and intricate and involves a complex frame-up of someone else. It’s the story of the investigation, following each thread until a problem arises and then moving on to the next lead – that’s Rhode’s formula and when it works, it works very well.
It’s not flawless – the letter business, where a letter arrives one day later than it should have, has a much more normal explanation, i.e. the British Postal Service – and the US title, Too Many Suspects, is basically a lie. There’s basically one for the experienced reader, so the murderer is pretty obvious really by elimination, although working out their scheme is the main attraction.
What’s most interesting is the link to one of the other Rhode reviews, this month, The Telephone Call, which you may recall was based on the famous-at-the-time Wallace case. Well, the set-up here is roughly similar as well, close enough to be commented on, which Waghorn, Priestley and co do, several times. Yet in The Telephone Call, where the set-up is EXACTLY the same as Wallace, everyone seems to have forgotten all about the real-life murder. If this was a TV show, the message boards would be full of continuity explanations…
Oh, and Priestley’s betrays an odd dislike of abbreviated names – he addresses a note to Inspector “Jimmy” Waghorn, rather snobbily using quotation marks.Probably trying to undermine his confidence so that he doesn’t start asking that these be called the “Inspector Waghorn Mysteries”…
As ever, this is a swearword to get hold of – I managed to find a copy under the US title in a three-volume book also containing those classics Out Of Control by Baynard Kendrick (no, me neither) and An Eye For An Eye by Oliver Weld Bayer (nope). This is for #1944book for Crimes Of The Century at Past Offences but there’s not much in the text to tell us about 1944, like mentioning there’s a war on, for example, apart from the fact that people are eating marrows. But there’s a great note at the start of the volume:
“Note to the reader: In accordance with wartime paper regulations the size and thickness of this volume have been reduced. The actual wordage, however, has not been cut in any way and the book contains three complete, full-length, mystery stories.”
It’s actually no different in height that another US hardback from ten years earlier, but the paper thickness is much reduced, and the font is slightly reduced, as is the footer on the bottom of the page, so there’s a nice bit of publishing trivia for you.
Anyway, should you ever get the chance to get a copy, this isn’t first class Rhode, but it’s still pretty good. Recommended.