Bob Fransham arrived at the home of Doctor Thornborough – his nephew-in-law – apparently on the doctor’s invitation, although the doctor denied this. But when he is washing up in the bathroom – locked from the inside – a crash is heard. When the door is broken down, Fransham lies dead with a mysterious square wound on his head – and no murder weapon, or killer, in sight. The local constabulary is convinced that Doctor Thornborough is guilty – no one else has a whiff of a motive – but Inspector Waghorn, called in from Scotland Yard, isn’t convinced. But without any idea of how the murder was committed, the case stumbles to a halt.
But soon, another dead body is found, in the basement next door to Fransham’s townhouse, a victim of a mysterious accident… apparently. But Superintendent Hanslet, on the advice of Dr Priestley, starts to find more links between the two bodies…
“There was something about her that would have shocked a respectable prostitute.”
The twenty eighth Dr Priestley mystery, and the second to be re-issued by Harper Collins, with that magnificent original cover – just as with Death At Breakfast, the first re-release, painted by someone who hasn’t actually read the book. Seriously, that cover is a caption competition waiting to happen… I’ve no idea, as I’ve mentioned before, what the logic is with the choice of re-releases, but I’m glad this one has been picked, basically because I don’t have a copy of this one. Well, I do now, obviously.
It has a reputation as being John Rhode’s locked room mystery and I suppose that’s true. Whether it’s his only one, I’m not sure, as a number of his books have a mysterious murder method, although that is often revealed about halfway through before the whodunit aspect kicks in, but here the mystery prevails in both aspects throughout the book.
It’s certainly not a perfect novel. The variation of Jimmy Waghorn’s intelligence, that can go up and down from book to book, is on full display here, as he makes an effective investigation into the crime but then needs a certain blindingly obvious something spelled out to him by Dr Priestley. Probably due to that, he is absent for the majority of the second half of the book, replaced by Hanslet, but that does allow… something quite clever to happen.
“You’ve got hold of the jammy end of the spoon this time, Inspector.”
By splitting the book into two halves, the time jump allows the book to avoid dragging in the central section like some of Rhode’s books. The murder methods, especially the first one, are interesting, although once something comes up, they’re pretty guessable and massively unreliable, but there’s some nice misdirection, although as with some of Rhode’s other villains, the complex scheme does have several points where it should have all fallen apart, but for good luck on the part of the murderer. But you could say that about a lot of crime fiction, couldn’t you?