Invisible Weapons by John Rhode

“It’s my belief that he’s gone clean off his crumpet lately.”

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?

Not his very best work (The Robthorne Mystery, Death On The Board), but certainly in the upper echelon of his canon (despite breaking one of Reverend Knox’s commandments). Highly Recommended.

 

16 comments

  1. Thanks for the review – glad that this title is readily available on my local kindle store… By now would you feel you’ve read enough for a top three or even five Rhode ranking…?

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      • It would be interesting to see which titles emerge at the top of your rankings. Going through your bibliography for Rhode, I think you’ve awarded quite a few ‘Highly Recommended’, but it seems that not all of the titles are to be regarded as first-class… A distinction that matters especially since entries in the Rhode catalogue command a hefty financial investment by the reader. 🙂

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  2. “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…

    He wrote about nine or ten of them and probably quite a few that would count as a borderline impossible crimes. If you’re interested, this website lists all of his confirmed locked room novels. Some of them, like The Cat Jumps, really need to be reprinted.

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    • Thanks for that. I’d certainly debate Poison For One falling under the impossible crime umbrella, although Death Leaves No Card certainly counts. But the general trope is highly unusual death, rather than impossible – even this one gives a clear indication of part of the solution very early, early enough that I can see some people not counting it as a locked room…

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  3. It’s a moot question whether it is preferable for cover art to be done by someone who (a) is a good artist but hasn’t read the book, (b) has read the book but is a poor artist (early editions of Bricklayer’s Arms), or (c) has read the book and is a good artist but has no idea of spoilers (my US edition of Dead of the Night/Night Exercise).

    Incidentally, Bricklayer’s Arms is a strong candidate for a reprint, as it’s a good one and not easy to find.

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    • Not Three Corpse Trick? I’d put that one pretty high too.

      As for The Cat Jumps, I’d definitely like a reprint of that one as I can’t find a copy of it anywhere, regardless of price. And I’m getting grumpy whenever someone mentions it, as I keep thinking that I’ve got it, when I remember that I’ve got The Platinum Cat instead…

      Yes, I know I shouldn’t be grumpy given how many of these that I’ve managed to get hold of, but I want them all, dammit!

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    • “……though it owes a debt to an older author..”
      In fact, even in Invisible Weapons, the solution to the first killing reminded me of a novel written four years earlier by a more famous author.

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  4. Your mentioning the variation in Jimmy’s intelligence is a fair point, something I could have spent more time on in Masters, though I do quote one or two critics complaining about that.

    Both Crofts and Rhode introduced posher, young police college educated sleuths, probably with the idea of appealing more to women readers, but Crofts’ Rollo is an underling of Inspector French and remains properly subsidiary, where Jimmy is an underling to an increasingly armchair-bound amateur sleuth, Dr. P. I get the feeling Rhode was getting tired of P and probably would have sooner had Jimmy as his main sleuth by the 1940s. But you’re right he does seem to vary in intelligence. It didn’t bother me too much, but I have one book where a reader actually complained about this in the margin!

    In some of the later books Rhode really strains to make P relevant. I like Jimmy, but I also like P’s secretary Harold Merefield and the more active P. And I know Hanslet is an old duffere, but I think he’s arguably a better character than Jimmy. But some of the best books are Jimmy books. Have you read any of the ones with his girlfriend and future wife, Diana Morpeth? Once Rhode introduced her, I wish that he had used her more.

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    • Am I right in saying she appears in Death Pays A Dividend and then they quickly marry? She gets a mention (possibly a brief appearance) in Death On The Boat Train as his wife but I haven’t read any substantial appearance from her. Which are the main appearances?

      As for the fading away of Priestley, as time goes on, Rhode seems more interested in the police investigations and more inclined to increase their competency, not something that I’d noticed in the later Burton books. But with a decent core cast to choose from, it still works – mostly…

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