The Hanging Woman (1931) by John Rhode

“You must remember that we’re dealing with a woman, subject to all a woman’s fancies and indecisions.”

Wargrave House stands at the edge of the village of Quarley in Essex. It is an old, rambling house, with a dark past – it is said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman who years ago hanged herself from a beam in the kitchen. But the sins of the past are about to be reflected in the present – as a woman is found hanged from the exact same beam…

Does the suicide of the woman have anything to do with the airplane that crashed and killed its pilot days earlier? There are enough questions for Superintendent Everley to call in assistance from Superintendent Haslet from Scotland Yard, who is intrigued enough to consult with his friend, Dr Lancelot Priestley. But by then the suicide has been called into question – for under the rope marks on the woman’s neck are traces of fingerprints…

Back to the early days of Dr Priestley with the tenth outing for the good doctor, still in his phase of actually getting off his bottom and visiting crime scenes. Earlier books that I’ve read so far have been either excellent – Peril At Cranbury Hall and The House On Tollard Ridge – or pretty dreadful – Pinehurst. Thankfully, this is much closer to the first two that than the latter.

The problem of what links the plane crash to the “suicide” has a surprisingly straightforward approach – I was expecting something much more convoluted from Rhode – and the overall solution to the problem is also less complex than some of his other tales. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very satisfying solution, but some of his other tales have required a flipchart to work out what exactly happened – given the set-up, this is a clever little tale.

It jogs along at a nice pace, as ever focussing on the investigation rather than the actions of the suspects. As I mentioned, we get a more proactive Priestley here, and it’s nice to see him get a larger page count that in other tales. Speaking of the suspects though, we could have done with a few more, as there’s really only two or three viable ones, and once Hanslet gets fixated on one of them, it doesn’t leave many for the actual killer.

There’s a couple of things of note here. First of all, Rhode revisits a scientific theme from another of his books – not saying what as it’s a bit of a spoiler – and this time takes it very seriously. I wonder, did Rhode believe it was a reality? Because it’s not, it’s utter ballcocks. But Priestley takes the science very seriously indeed, leading to some actions that make his attitude of “I’ve solved the crime, good luck finding evidence” look like very small potatoes.

Oh, and apparently in 1931, sunset was defined as when it was too dark for hay-making.

So, another excellent outing for Priestley. Still not up there with the very best, but some very interesting ideas and a simple-but-complex plot. You know what I mean.

I think The Hanging Woman is one of the rarer Rhode titles out there – relatively speaking, of course. There are copies out there (unlike some of the titles) but they’re not cheap. Looks like I was very lucky with this one. Anyway, good luck – it’s definitely Highly Recommended, but I wouldn’t pay the £70 that some people are asking for it…


  1. It’s a real shame that Rhode’s best works haven’t been reprinted – the Burton novels re-released by the British Library were good, but don’t seem to represent Rhode’s true greatness? I’ve just checked the prices for ‘Peril at Cranbury Hall’ and ‘House on Tollard Ridge’, and they were exorbitant. Incidentally, managed to snag a copy of ‘Death of Jezebel’ for under £25 recently… 😀


    • I think people need to decide what the best Rhode titles are first… Death In The Tunnel was picked, apparently, due to the content matching the picture of a train that the BL had picked out for the cover. As you say, it’s good, but it is a bit by-the-numbers for Rhode. I enjoyed High Eldersham more, but it’s a bit on the bonkers side – very atypical of his work.


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