The village of Filmerham is an insignificant sort of place, but it does have a railway station, the domain of Mr Maberly, the station master. And one morning, when surveying his domain, he discovers something unexpected – a dead body alongside the track. Accident or suicide? Of course not. In the midst of war, the reinstated Superintendent Hanslet is called in from Scotland Yard, and, recalling a similar, earlier, investigation, soon finds evidence of murder.
Alexander Gargrave was a wealthy man, with friends and family who would benefit from his death. But would any of them stoop to murder? Or is something darker behinds his death? Luckily, Hanslet has Dr Priestley to help him out. Or does he?
Back with John Rhode and book 37 of the Dr Priestley series from 1943. Following on from Men Die At Cypress Lodge, Jimmy Waghorn has been seconded to the War Office, so the aging Hanslet is back in the saddle. I can’t quite decide if the idea of a similar murder method having been used before is a clever idea or just Rhode recycling his Death By Train murder method (sort of) from Tragedy On The Line but it is a nice touch that Hanslet has his doubts because of what he almost missed that time. I was a bit worried when Hanslet referred to that tale – which is why I read that one once it got mentioned and then came back to this one. There weren’t any spoilers anyway, but you never know.
It’s a much better tale than the earlier book. As I said, Rhode really pulls the ending out of nowhere in that one, but this is fairly clued, with a good number of suspects. Admittedly, I spotted the murderer and motive very quickly – it kind of leapt off the page – but the tale still chugged along nicely.
It does contain some of the more irritating aspects of Priestley’s nature, though. This is one of those tales where Priestley remains ensconced in his London home – he refuses to evacuate despite the Blitz – and gives cryptic clues to Hanslet. Unfortunately, he doesn’t bother with actually telling Hanslet who the killer is, just tells him what he considers to be the crucial clues. You can argue whether it’s Priestley’s obliqueness or Hanslet’s stupidity (as I said, the killer was pretty obvious to me well before that point) that nearly gets Hanslet killed, but it does give the finale a bit of excitement, as, by a massive coincidence, Waghorn shows up to the murderer’s location on an entirely different matter, only to save the day. Silly but quite fun.
Anyway, it’s not a classic, but still a decent outing for Priestley. A big improvement on Tragedy On The Line, but good luck tracking down a copy – £50 seems to be the cheapest – looks like I was lucky with this one. Recommended.
This has one of my favourite bits of sarcasm from the doctor – when he says of a suspect that he’s surprised he didn’t walk into the local pub wearing the victim’s hat and coat! (I’ve checked this over and it doesn’t seem to amount to any sort of spoiler.)
By the way, shouldn’t it be “Men Die at Cyprus Lodge”?
As you will know from Masters of the Humdrum Mystery , I really started getting to like Hanslet by these wartime novels. Dr. P. may be brilliant but he is a cross to bear, a right ornery bastard, I tell ye! I think Hanslet definitely shared certain qualities with the author, even if Hanslet was of different social origins and not nearly as bright, to be sure.
[…] soon joins the War Office and Hanslet is re-recruited – he is the only sleuth in 1943’s Dead On The Track – but they cross paths in Men Die At Cyprus Lodge but Waghorn is back in charge by 1944’s […]
[…] Dead On The Track by John Rhode (the war is very much in the background here) […]
[…] On The Boat-Train and Death In The Tunnel – and as murder weapons – Tragedy On The Line and Dead On The Track – and there are many more examples. But the old-fashioned train, with its separate compartments, […]