Cheriton Brothers is an engineering partnership between brothers Wilfred and Clarence, but they both have different outlooks on the business. Wilfred is determined that Cheriton Brothers remains on the forefront of technology, always trying to improve their products regardless of the research costs, whereas Clarence is determined to make as much profit as possible. Needless to say, this isn’t conducive to a happy working relationship and things have turned sour between the two brothers…
And then Wilfred dies, tinkering with a transformer in his garage. Was it an accident that when Wilfred, standing in a puddle of water and reaching for to turn off the tap, is electrocuted? Had Wilfred accidentally wired the transformer to the tap? Or was it a suicide? Or, just possibly, did someone plan a carefully devised murder?
Enter Jimmy Waghorn – and, in the background, Dr Priestley. Can he sniff out a killer who seems to have vanished off the face of the earth?
This is one of the final Dr Priestley titles – number 68 out of 73, I think – and at this point, Priestley’s presence is minimal, with at least one newspaper announcing the previous book, Murder At Derivale, as the latest Jimmy Waghorn mystery, not even mentioning the good Doctor. And that’s fair enough, as by this point, Priestley is restricted to his dinner parties (alongside ex-Superintendent Hanslet and Dr Oldland) where the case is discussed. At this stage, Priestley seems more inclined to help Jimmy solve the case, rather than solve it for him. It does take a couple of goes, but eventually Jimmy clicks on to the crucial aspect of the crime.
Unfortunately, the reader probably clicked onto it well before Jimmy, so again he comes across as being an odd sort of detective. He needs a nudge to make that great leap to look at a case the right way (although it’s not that great a leap sometimes) but once he is looking in the right direction, he’s more competent than most in Golden Age fiction.
The mystery here is well-constructed and fairly complex, but the clues are there for the careful reader to track down the murderer. The unfortunate aspect of this plot is that after much clever deduction, the genuine armchair sleuth will have unmasked the same person that the amateur would have guessed anyway. It’s well plotted, but it did need a more surprising killer.
It’s not the most absorbing tale either, with the plot being advanced on more than one occasion with information from a witness that could (and should) have been revealed in an earlier conversation, making the tale feel a little dragged out. There’s a second murder to keep things moving a bit, but it’s one of those that Rhode does that is important to the plot, such that the mystery isn’t solvable until that one happens.
Perfectly adequate, but definitely not reflective of Rhode’s better work.
For the rest of my Rhode reviews, see here.
I agree with your verdict, adequate only. By this point Rhode seems to be writing police procedurals rather than genuine mysteries.
The odd thing is, I think, it feels as if there’s an intent for the revelation to be a big surprise… Only making the villain and what the villain did the first thing anyone would guess undermines the whole thing
I have been reading a great deal of Rhode lately and while the revelation is undoubtedly supposed to be a surprise I’m not as certain that the identity of the murderer is expected to be a huge surprise by this point. My most recent Rhode was DELAYED PAYMENT (DEATH OF A GODMOTHER) from a few years earlier in which the murderer doesn’t even makes a appearance until quite late in the book so Rhode was no longer restricting himself to classic puzzle plots.
[…] Death Takes A Partner by John Rhode – a late entry into the Dr Priestley canon and it’s passable, but a long way short of his best. […]