Death On The Boat-Train (1940) by John Rhode

No one gave a second thought to the passenger who boarded the Isle of Jethou on Guernsey and immediately locked themselves in their cabin. And then who boarded the boat train bound for London in a carriage compartment all to themselves, without a travelling companion for the whole trip. And when he was found dead on arrival in London, the immediate assumption was suicide – a needle mark was found, and ricin, a slow-acting poison, was found in his system. The syringe of poison was missing, but the assumption was that the victim threw it out of the window.

But when the victim’s identity is discovered, thoughts turn to murder. But everybody with a whiff of a motive to kill the victim – and there are a good number – has an ironclad alibi. Even if they could have got close enough to inject the victim with the poison, there was no way to join the train if not from the ferry… Inspector Jimmy Waghorn investigates, luckily with the help of that eminent sleuth, Dr Lancelot Priestley.

Yup, it’s back to John Street aka John Rhode. It’s been a while – six weeks – since Death Takes The Living. No particular reason, just other stuff got in the way. The blog is definitely veering in the direction of the Golden Age again, so expect more in the coming months. I’ve managed to get my hands on fifty-four Rhode titles since my obsession started and twenty-six Burtons – slightly over halfway, but it’s definitely slowing down. As ever, if anyone wants to offer me copies of any titles that I’m missing for an insultingly low price, do get in touch – the list of books that I’ve got is on the John Rhode page, with the italicised ones being those dodgy e-copies that I’ve succumbed to from the Internet Archive.

Meanwhile, back to this one. While being allegedly a Dr Priestley book, as is quite common, Jimmy Waghorn leads the investigation with a couple of visits to Priestley for the Professor give him some pointers. It’s a good job, as Jimmy, as ever, oscillates from being an effective police detective to a bit of a thicky. Let’s face it, if you found someone had been injected IN THE BACK by a syringe, would you consider suicide as the likely reason? Well, quite.

And so off we go in a fairly standard Rhode title – a well-constructed investigation with some clever ideas. You could make the case that this is an impossible crime, but the solution to how the murder was committed doesn’t require a huge deductive leap to work it out. But at least it’s simpler than the murder method in Death In The Tunnel by the same author, and the murderer is one of the better hidden ones from Rhode – not as clever as Murder, M.D., but not bad. I didn’t guess who it was, and it’s a well-done motive as well.

There are some oddities – Priestley seems to have returned from seeing some patients at one point, but he’s not that sort of doctor, is he? – and some lovely ideas from the past that have changed a little these days. The idea that women regular throw themselves at the captain of the Guernsey-Southampton ferry… well, the nice girls love a sailor, I guess. Filthy minded individuals might enjoy the use of the word “orgy” to describe a drunken binge. Oh, and, from no less an authority than his wife – recently acquired in Death Pays A Dividend – that Jimmy Waghorn has the power to make “unprotected women unbosom themselves”. Think of that what you may…

As an aside, this was written only four years after Death In The Tunnel. Did Street think of two ways to kill someone in a train carriage and kept this one until enough time separated this book from the one by his pseudonym? Remember, it wasn’t known at the time that Rhode and Burton were the same person…

So, a upper-middle level Rhode with some clever ideas in it – if you enjoyed Death In The Tunnel, then I’d say this is better. Recommended, but don’t break the bank to get it – the cheapest on Abebooks is £60…

Oh, and I leave you with the advert on the back of the book. Because clearly this is what mystery lovers suffer from…


  1. Sounds like a lot of fun, though I may hold off to see if it’s one of the slew getting republished over the next year or so — haven’t paid £60 for a book for a while (or, er, ever…). As ever, I salute your commitment!


    • Oh, I didn’t pay £60 either. I do need to eat, you know. It’s by collecting Rhode and Flynn that I vaguely understand angling. Lots of sitting around while nothing happens and then leaping into action on the off chance something does and you haven’t dozed off. I got this for much less than my budget cap, a real piece of luck spotting it on eBay as a Buy It Now before anyone else did. Or the fact that my copy is a Crime Club paperback and real collectors want a hardback with dust jacket… I’m far less fussy – one of my Burtons has no cover at all, although I did draw the line when someone offered me a Flynn with the last page missing…


      • Yeah, “angling” is the perfect metaphor — that’s how I tracked down some pretty rare and normally expensive books in my collection…that obsessive reading-about-what-to-read pays off in some ways!


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