Major Walter Bedworthy has a set routine. If ever he visited his friend, Sir John Hallatrow, he would never drive the circuitous route but walk the shorter route across the fields. Even in the dark, he would always find the footbridge across the stream – he had a perfect method for finding it. And then one night, he disappears, to be discovered drowned a few days later. But Hallatrow is convinced that it could not have been an accident or a suicide and luckily, Dr Priestley, eminent scientist and investigator is a friend of a friend, who soon sets off for the town of Blacksand.
The inquest rules it an accident – there is no evidence of foul play at all – but Priestley is convinced there is more to it than that. A second death soon accelerates matters but a motive seems desperately elusive. Can Priestley find the killer before their plan is complete?
The 24th Dr Priestley mystery (also known as In The Face Of The Verdict) which starts very oddly as the first words of the book are “Dr Priestley”. He’s a much more central character in this one than in the others that I’ve read and we get to see a little more of the character. In particular, we get to see that he’s a bit of an arse – once he works out who the killer is, he basically tells the police that he’s bored now and they can find the evidence as it’s all a bit of a chore. It’s not the first time he does this – he generally can’t be bothered to get his hands dirty as even interviewing suspects is delegated to his detecting chums.
It trundles along very nicely, with some nice detection going on, although you could make a case for questioning if the murder method would actually work – you’d need to be pretty damn accurate – and well before the end of the book, the killer is pretty obvious, which does make the non-Priestleys in the book seem a little dim when they need it spelled out to them. The tale suffers from a dearth of suspects, really, but I prefer this approach to the obscure-character-pulled-out-of-nowhere that Rhode has used in a couple of other books.
Rhode seems to be embracing his standard style here, despite the increased presence of Priestley, and it’s a perfectly competent and enjoyable tale – not his best work, but a long way from his worst. Well Worth A Look – but for twenty quid or so, there are better examples of his work out there.