A couple of comments on my recent review of The Robthorne Mystery by John Rhode prompted this post – namely how to read John Rhode affordably. I’ve already outlined how to obtain the works of Cecil Street aka John Rhode aka Miles Burton, but I thought I’d do a little statistical analysis of how much it would cost you. Brace yourself.
Let’s start with the Dr Priestley series, starting with The Paddington Mystery in 1925 and ending with The Vanishing Diary in 1961, spanning seventy other books in between. So how much would it cost you to buy them all?
Let’s assume that you want non-electronic copies but don’t need first editions. I went on Abebooks and found the cheapest price for each of the Rhode titles, including ones with the alternate US title, something that is essential if you want a copy of Death On Sunday – you’ll have to make do with The Elm Tree Murder instead. Obviously these prices vary depending on where you’re from – some of the postage (which I’ve included in the valuation) seems rather extortionate. And before anyone says it, this isn’t an exact science, as quality and edition affects price, but this is more about the simple existence of any copies. Anyway, the total amount you would need would be…
Wait for it
£5493. For 72 books. An average of £76.30 per book.
OK, this is a bit distorted by the cheapest (at time of writing) copy of Proceed With Caution and The Paddington Mystery being £821 and £654 respectively. Although you can be thankful that a “cheap” copy of Murder At Lilac Cottage has appeared, as last time I looked, the cheapest was £1600.
And I won’t mention that I managed to get my hands on an affordable copy of The Paddington Mystery the other day. That would be rude.
The cheapest title, by the way, was The Venner Crime at £9. Not read it yet, but there always seem to be a couple of relatively cheap copies of this one knocking around. No idea why this is the one that seemed to have a bigger print run, but I guess that’s why there are copies at this price. The next book, chronologically speaking, The Robthorne Mystery, seems pretty scarce at £153 and the preceding title, The Claverton Affair, has only three copies of the original print run available (although there have been two reprints). Does anyone have any insight into the availability of The Venner Crime?
The next cheapest was The Domestic Agency, a late (so probably less impressive) title, but don’t bother looking for that one now – sorry. [UPDATE: Since writing that last comment, I’ve had an email from the seller telling me that he can’t find the title on his shelves, so probably sold it. Bum.]
Other titles at the affordable end of the spectrum are The Claverton Affair and Death In Harley Street, both of which got paperback reprints in the mid-eighties; Vegetable Duck, which, as Too Many Suspects, got reprinted in a collection of three titles in the US that seems to be fairly available; and The House On Tollard Ridge, one of the two titles to get a Green Penguin printing (although The Murders In Praed Street, the other one, isn’t cheap).
As far as I can see, the earlier books – pre-war certainly, but possibly stopping before then – got multiple reprints, which is why they sometimes turn up in affordable forms as third or fourth editions, but I think this stopped after a while. Some titles, based on my collection, including Shot At Dawn, Poison For One and In Face Of The Verdict – all from 1934-6 – had Collins Crime Club paperback reprints. The latter one crossed my path a few times over the past year, but I’ve only seen the first two once, so I’m guessing this wasn’t a massive print run. By the by, my copy of The Fourth Bomb, from 1942, is a similar edition, but from Australia.
So there are more copies out there for some titles than for others. Based on my experience from the past year or so, the first tranche of books, up to about 1936, are attainable with patience. From about 1937 to 1942, there’s barely a hint of the existence of the titles. The next couple of years books are more available, but thereafter, most of the copies that I own are the US reprints. I’m guessing that in the UK, the books weren’t reprinted.
Anyway, over to Miles Burton and here we get a rather different picture.
The average price of the books that you can get is £68.25 (bargain) with titles ranging from £5 and £6 (Secret of High Eldersham and Death In The Tunnel, thanks to the British Library) up to £384 for Murder In The Coal Hole aka Written In Dust. There are fewer cheaper titles at the lower end – Murder M D, Situation Vacant and Early Morning Murder seem to have had slightly larger print runs (which is a shame as Early Morning Murder is not Street at his best) but this average is not representative of the cost of a complete Burton library. No fewer than 25 titles have no entry on Abebooks at all. They range throughout the timespan of his catalogue but it seems that there just aren’t copies of these books about at all.
The early books are especially missing, which is odd as at this point, Burton “shared” a publisher with Rhode and certainly The Mystery/Secret of High Eldersham had multiple editions but it seems that the other titles from the era have vanished, unlike the Rhode titles. Anyone have any idea why?
So how can you read John Street’s work without breaking the bank? Well, I’m going to go back on something that I’ve ranted about in the past. I think you should use the Internet Archive. I’ll admit, I’ve been using it a bit recently myself. I have officially changed my mind – it does happen occasionally.
Yes, that’s no good for people who don’t like ebooks. Yes, the books in question shouldn’t be there as they are not out of copyright in most territories. Morally, though, I’d rather use this than pay the person who’s just nicked the books off of it and is selling them on Amazon. While the estate continues to not release his back catalogue, this is a way that you can experience some of Rhode’s work. And I really want more of you to give his work a try.
There are in total twenty one John Rhode and thirteen Miles Burton titles and there are some crackers there, notably The Robthorne Mystery, Death Sits On The Board and Death In The Hop Fields. I do like The Motor Rally Mystery as well, although Martin Edwards doesn’t, so opinion is divided on that one. And there are probably some other decent reads that I just haven’t read yet. Be warned, if you can’t read epub files – e.g. if you’re a Kindle user – you need to do a bit of jiggery-pokery to turn the epubs into mobi files, but it’s not that hard. There is plenty of conversion software out there – it isn’t that hard if you’re a bit computer literate. It didn’t take me too long to work it out, using a free program called Calibre. And if you’re not that computer literate, there’s probably a YouTube tutorial to follow.
You can find the Rhode titles by looking here and the Burton titles here, but the titles in question are:
|By Registered Post||Death Takes A Partner||Open Verdict|
|Death At Breakfast||Dr Goodwood’s Locum||Proceed With Caution|
|Death At The Inn||Dr Priestley’s Quest||The Domestic Agency|
|Death In The Hop Fields||In Face Of The Verdict||The Fatal Pool|
|Death In Wellington Road||Licenced For Murder||The Motor Rally Mystery|
|Death Of A Bridegroom||Murder At Derivale||The Robthorne Mystery|
|Death Of An Author||Mystery At Olympia||The Venner Crime|
|Death On The Board||Nothing But The Truth|
|Beware Your Neighbour||Death Takes the Living||Legacy Of Death|
|Death In A Duffle Coat||Devil’s Reckoning||Look Alive|
|Death Paints A Picture||Found Drowned||The Chinese Puzzle|
|Death Takes A Detour||Heir To Murder||The Milkchurn Murder|
I should point out that there are three others. Two can easily be obtained in legitimate copies and the third, The Hardway Diamonds Mystery, is a non-Merrion early Burton.
Just to make it clear, I still want official copies of all of these titles, be they antique books that are older than my parents or official re-releases, either ebook or otherwise, and if such things pass my way, then I will buy them. But I also want more people to read the books of John Rhode – the more people who see what they’re missing, then possibly the more persuasive people can be when they next ask the estate for the rights… So I leave it to you to decide whether to take advantage of this mild dodginess or not.
The alternative is patience. I haven’t paid more than £20 for a title, with the exception of one title, and often significantly less than that, and I’ve built up a significant collection of his work. There are various second hand book sites out there and things appear from time to time. You just have to hope that nobody else spots it…
And, of course, if anyone wants to offer me any Rhode or Burton titles – you can see which ones I own here – then do get in touch. Although bear in mind, I can’t stretch to £76.30… maybe a quarter of that, maximum…
UPDATE: The Collins Crime Club will soon be re-releasing The Paddington Mystery, Death At Breakfast, Invisible Weapons and Mystery At Olympia, with hopefully more to come after that…
As the man who, simply speaking literally, wrote the book on Street, I’ve been very frustrated for years about the failure of John Streets literary heirs and agency to do much of anything about getting his frequently fine books reprinted. But perhaps they will see the light. I’ve read all of the books except for two Cecil Wayes and would like others to be able to as well.
I was offered two of the Waye books recently – The Figure Of Eight and The Prime Minister’s Pencil – but for £300 each, they were a little out of my price range… Fingers crossed that one day everyone will get the chance to read them.
A glance at eBay confirms this is going to be an author out of my price range. No easy $30 batches of 12 books here. The best I could find are a handful of pocket books (my preferred format) in the $10-20 range. I typically only touch that range when mopping up a few lingering titles for an author.
With that in mind, do you have a budget-adjusted Top 10 list for those approaching Rhode? If one were willing to drop $50 in physical books, how would it be best spent?
You have left out 4 books by John Rhode and 2 books by Miles Burton available at Internet Archive:
John Rhode: Death At Breakfast , Mystery At Olympia, The Anatomy Of Murder, The Venner Crime.
Miles Burton: The Secret Of High Eldersham, The Hardwar Diamonds Mystery.
Must have missed some of those in the search. But I deliberately missed Anatomy and Eldersham as there are legitimate reprints of those.
You will get the entire list if you simply use the search terms “John Rhode” and “Miles Burton” (without using ‘subject:’ in front)
Collecting Rhode/Burton/Waye is certainly a matter of luck/patience/profligacy. I’ve been collecting his work for years and still only have a small proportion (especially of Burton). A few years ago I was lucky to find 4 of the less common titles in a local shop for only a few pounds each, but since then it’s been slim pickings. (Incidentally, I agree with you that “Early Morning Murder” is not his best work – someone should have told Edmund Wilson to read that if he thought “The Nine Tailors” was the dullest book he’d ever read!)
There is a similar problem with E. C. R. Lorac/Carol Carnac, whose work I also like. Even books like “The Devil and the CID”, which were republished recently by Ramble House, now appear on Abebooks at highish prices. Most just aren’t there at all!
Yes, the Ramble House prices for their two Burton titles are ridiculous – I just bought them direct from Ramble House for about half of the cheapest price on offer.
Only read the one Lorac – The Sixteenth Stair, reviewed v recently. It was fine but didn’t set my world on fire. Any recommendations?
Thanks for this, just what I wanted to know, sort of … I had no idea some of these prices were so stratospheric! And let’s hope that who ever is managing the Street backlist and Curtis’ hard work finally makes some deal with some seemingly very eager publishers out there 🙂
Hope springs eternal…
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Some of the best Lorac titles are those set in the northwest of England, in an area which she obviously loved – for instance, The Theft of the Iron Dogs and Still Waters (the latter was the first of hers I ever read, and the former has a particularly ingenious bit of clueing). Others I’d suggest are Rope’s End, Rogue’s End (a rare example in her work of a locked-room mystery), Let Well Alone (in which two young married couples, fed up of the housing problems in post-war London, take on an incredibly remote house in the West Country) and Death of An Author (an early title, without McDonald but with an intriguing central situation). None of these are easy to find, though – particularly the last, unless there’s a recent reprint I don’t know about.
I recently combed some online bookstores for the Rhode titles you recommended, and only managed to purchase ‘House on Tollard Ridge’ and ‘Death in Harley Street’ – the rest were way too expensive. 😦
Well, those two are pretty good finds. Hope you enjoy them.
I found twenty Rhode titles (ebooks) on what was probably a bootleg site (and yes, I downloaded them. I don’t have unlimited disposable income).
Presumably the same ones that I mention in the post?
I think the reason that The Venner Crime is more common than all the others is that it was published by Odhams, so presumably had a bigger print run but with cheaper production values.
That’s a good guess, Mike, but not accurate. THE VENNER CRIME had an unusual publishing history in that it was originally offered with a handful of other books (including The HOUND OF DEATH by Agatha Christie) by independent publisher Odhams Press as part of a subscription series. The books were available only by purchase using coupons (plus seven shillings) that were collected from their magazine “The Passing Show” as a promotion for the revival of that journal. I am uncertain of the exact print run of Rhode’s book, but it seems to me that there were a lot of them. Perhaps this particular title was not that popular and unpurchased copies were unloaded on used bookstores a few years after the promotion.
Fascinating, I didn’t know that. There do seem to be a lot of copies of the Odhams edition of Hound of Death for sale as well.
In terms of the relative scarcity of Rhode and Burton, over about 40 years of book buying I’ve picked up 25 different Rhode titles but only three by Burton (though I haven’t bought the latest British Library reprints yet which should take me up to five).
Since I am in Canada, where copyright is life of the author plus fifty years, I have no qualms whatsoever in reading any of the Cecil Street books that are available from archive.org, one of which you seem to have missed. From the digital library of India, someone has posted MURDER IN THE COAL HOLE, at:
[…] of the GAD blogosphere attest to Rhode’s quality, and so if you’re interested in learning more, I’ll have to point you to a Rhodes scholar (eh, see what I did? Well, it is a somewhat US-centric […]
Hi, I have a copy of Death Pays a Dividend 1939, is there another title of this? I believe mine is a first edition with poor DJ.
No, that’s the only title for it. Even with a poor DJ, you should be able to get a fair bit for it. Books from that period are pretty rare.
I’ll give you 100 pounds for it.
[…] Money For Old Rhode: The Price Of Collecting John Street […]