Welcome to Mincashire, England, where stands the imposing Blackthorn House. But before we get there, we drop in on the artist Noel Yewdale, who is in a bit of a pickle. His newly bought car, bought from his uncle Kenneth Winslow’s company, has been impounded by the police under suspicion of being stolen. And without a car, how is he supposed to transport the locked chest containing silver plate to its destination?
When the police arrive to confirm that the car is indeed stolen and that Yewdale has no claim to it, they are helpful enough to assist Yewdale in moving the chest out of the garage so that it can be collected. But the chest is emitting a strange smell, and lo and behold, when it is opened, there’s a dead body inside. The body of Kenneth Winslow.
What happened to Winslow to place his body in the chest? Who is behind the car theft ring? Can Jimmy Waghorn (now Superintendent) get to the bottom of things? (No.) Will he need Dr Priestley to sort it out for him? (Yes).
That tartly logical professor, Dr Priestley, is about to celebrate his Silver Anniversary in detection; and he is still appearing in novels indistinguishable from those which starred him in 1925. His creator refuses to be bothered with new-fangled notions of psychology and suspense, and stolidly continues to concentrate on routine and workmanlike puzzle-plots.
The New York Times, July 10, 1949
That’s a rather harsh review from the New York Times to be fair. Not that this is a great book – it isn’t – but it also doesn’t resemble Priestley’s early outings. Here, we are into the phase of Rhode’s writing where we are focusing on the police investigation while Priestley in his brief appearances nudges Jimmy in the right direction and points out the obvious thing that he’s missed.
It’s a different sort of procedural than my previous review, Mystery In The Channel, as there we follow Inspector French from theory to theory. Waghorn has three suspects – Yewdale, Winslow’s butler and Winslow’s colleague – and the three senior police characters each has their own idea as to which is the guilty party. Needless to say, it’s up to Priestley to sort it all out, getting off his bottom to meet some suspects and basically accusing a random character of being the killer – correctly, in fact. It doesn’t show Waghorn or Priestley in their best lights as Waghorn really seemed to have overlooked something badly (not uncommon for him) and Priestley seems to abandon his logical approach in favour of guessing – Curtis Evans refers to it as intuiting in Masters Of The Humdrum Mystery, but he’s more tactful than me.
Not a great outing for our heroes – I feel that Rhode’s books about criminal conspiracies tend to be less effective for me – but it passes the time well enough. Don’t break the bank for this one though…