Dr Goodwood’s Locum by John Rhode

1951 and it’s time for Dr Alan Goodwood’s annual holiday. The local doctor for the market town of Patham, he makes a habit of taking a regular monthly break in August and hiring a locum from London. Only the most highly qualified bachelor must apply – after all, we don’t want Mrs Goodwood upset about a woman poking about the house when she’s away.

Enter Dr Stephen Thornhill, a young doctor who meets all of the qualifications. But as soon as he meets one of Goodwood’s patients, Thomas Wilsden, he has concerns. Wilsden has been ill for a long time with a gastric ulcer but Thornhill is deeply concerned that his health has taken a serious turn for the worse. Indeed, the next day, Wilsden is dead. Thornhill and another local doctor agree it was natural causes…

… but then Dr Thornhill disappears, and a body is found beside a burned out car. When the body is identified as Thornhill, the question asked is what did he do in the two days he had been in Patham to upset someone to that degree. Luckily, Inspector Jimmy Waghorn is on the case. Even more luckily, so is Dr Priestley…

I thought I’d take a quick break from a recent run of new releases to make a little dent in the growing pile of John Rhode titles – without really noticing, I seem to have acquired nearly two thirds of the Priestley books – and I picked this one, the 52nd out of 77, basically because I was going away and I’ve got an Internet Archive dodgy copy on my Kindle. And because I missed a copy of it on eBay by not bidding £64!!! But also I fancied trying to consciously ascertain where the Priestley books start going downhill.

I’ve only actually read two books written later than this, the distinctly-not-great Death On The Lawn and the distinctly-rubbish The Fatal Pool, so I was a bit concerned going into this one. Especially as I’ve got a lot on my shelf from this period and later, so I was hoping I hadn’t invested in a collection of drivel. Luckily, this wasn’t the case.

Obviously it suffers from Rhode’s inability to give a book an interesting name – and the title reminds me for no particular reason of an old advert involving Mr Cadbury’s Parrot* – but that’s basically it in terms of major problems. If you enjoyed Death At Breakfast, recently reissued, then this follows a similar pattern. Jimmy Waghorn investigates – this is one of the brighter iterations of Jimmy, although when Priestley displays some impatience when confronting the murderer at the end, you can’t help feeling some of it is directed at Jimmy who still hasn’t put two and two together. After a bit of sleuthing, he joins Dr Priestley and his dining companions to discuss the case. Repeat this a couple of times and then Priestley gets off his bottom to help with the denouement.

On the down side, there is quite a lengthy mid-section where Priestley and co discuss their own theories and shoot down the others’ theories, which are quite detailed. All the problems hinge on the time it would take to commit the crime and then be in the right place at the right time, so while there isn’t a railway timetable involved (well, not much), it’s that sort of discussion.

Thankfully this doesn’t impact on the solution as things pick up significantly again after this and it is, I think, one of Rhode’s more surprising solutions. Yes, it’s not a unique idea, but it’s done very well here. So we have a strong opening, slightly dull and confusing middle 15% and a very strong ending. A strong entry into Rhode’s canon – better, I think, than Death At Breakfast due to the simplicity of the scheme.

So what do I spot of interest to me, apart from the narrative?

  • Medical breakthroughs are slow to travel – “I don’t know whether you London practitioners have found out anything new about [neuritis].
  • “I don’t see why a middle-aged man shouldn’t marry a girl thirty years younger than himself, if his object is to have children.” Um…
  • Dr Thornhill stands out because he doesn’t smoke – “I feel better without it” – unlike every other doctor, and indeed character, in the Golden Age
  • The local garage seems to have a side-line in driving people around town
  • Shops had an early-closing day – although to be fair, this still happened in the UK when I was young, which was significantly later than 1951
  • Death certificates for cremation have to be signed by two independent doctors. Never heard of that one before…
  • Priestley remembers he’s a mathematician (sometimes) and spouts some nonsense about the Theory of Probability and even more nonsense with a link to triangles…
  • At least one professional doctor refers to a stomach ache as “a pain in his tummy” when not talking to a small child…

Anyway, for a late-ish Priestley, this is really rather good – it gives me some more hope for the other later entries into his canon. Not top-notch, but better than a lot of Golden Age stuff out there. Well Worth A Look.

*and in case you don’t know what Mr Cadbury’s Parrot is…

 

 

2 comments

  1. I just read your post about John rhode in which you said a lot of his works were avaliable on Internet archive. I think you missed a great one, which you yourself highly recommended.

    I am referring to Death in harley street, which is also avaliable on archive, but unlike other rhodes, it cannot simply be downloaded and needs to be borrowed. I have currently borrowed it and I am really loving it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Slightly oddly for this old blog of mine, there wasn’t a lot of classic crime on display as I had a bundle of new releases to review, some my requests, some requested of me (and tempting me with nice shiny hardback copies of their books – thanks, Michael and Ashley). Even one of the Golden Age titles was a British Library review copy, so only two were genuine free choices on my part, namely Death Out Of Thin Air and Mr Cadbury’s Parrot Dr Goodwood’s Locum. […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.