The Bloody Tower (1938) aka The Tower Of Evil by John Rhode

“The Tower still stands…”

Thus spoke Simeon Glapthorne when told by Inspector Jimmy Waghorn that his son was dead. The elderly Simeon seemed much more concerned with the old Tower on his land than the fate of Caleb, a man who many found hard to like. Caleb died in what appeared at first to be a shooting accident, his shotgun exploding when it was fired. It is quickly ascertained that this was no accident, and Waghorn, only in the area to investigate a gang of thieves, finds himself investigating a murder.

But it seems that this murder is motiveless. The only inheritance at stake is debt, a debt tied to the failing Glapthorne estate, and while Caleb was unpleasant, he didn’t seem so unpleasant that someone would murder him. While Jimmy becomes certain that he has the murderer in his sights, it will be impossible to prove without a reason for the murder. Luckily, he has a friend who might be able to help with that…

Long-time readers of the blog may have been wondering where the John Rhode reviews have been recently. It’s been six months since I last sampled his work, with Death Takes A Detour, and even longer since I looked at The Murders In Praed Street, my most recent Dr Priestley title. Why the hiatus? To be honest, no idea. But we’re back with the twenty-ninth Dr Priestely outing.

The Priestley titles break down roughly into three categories. Either Priestley is heavily involved in the case from the start, his interest is piqued halfway through by Jimmy Waghorn or Hanslet and then he shows up at the scene of the crime to sort things out or he does a Nero Wolfe and just dispenses sage advice from the safety of his study. This is from the second category – we start with Jimmy investigating the motiveless murder, he chats a bit to Priestley who is mostly interested in a coded message in the Glapthorne family Bible, and then, after things escalate, Priestley and Harold Merefield show up to try and nudge Jimmy in the right direction before almost audibly sighing and telling him who the murderer is.

I enjoyed this one a lot. There is less of the period detail of the time, such as in Death In The Hop Fields and less convoluted multiple murders, such as The Murders In Praed Street or Death On The Board, but a good, well-told tale of police investigation. Jimmy isn’t a complete idiot in this one, for the first half of the book, but the failure to investigate something spoilery does rather beggar belief. I understand the need for Priestley to deliver the coup de grace in the investigation, but he really shouldn’t need to be telling Jimmy how to do his job at one point.

I can’t let this review pass with mentioning the wonderfully silly justification for why Priestley has roused himself from his chambers, namely:

“The effect of wind pressure upon isolated structures has always been a matter of interest to me.”

Even Jimmy can spot this for the horse excrement that it is, and barely a paragraph later, Priestley admits that he’s there for the investigation, but it’s such an odd line. Priestley has always had diverse interests, but that one? Really?

Published as The Tower Of Evil in the US (which is a really stupid title, let me say), good luck finding an affordable copy of this one. There is a Collins Crime Club paperback version, the version that I own, but this is one of my luckier purchases – I’ll even turn a blind eye to a couple of errors in the text in chapter one. I wouldn’t break the bank for this one, but if you do see an affordable copy, you could do a lot worse than take a look.

Oh, and the off-chance the Rhode estate is reading this, please get in touch with one of the many reprint publishers out there – John Street’s books deserve a much wider audience that they currently have. I’m sure Dean Street Press would jump at the chance…

Availability: Not very…

Just The Facts, Ma’am: HOW Unusual Murder Method i.e. an exploding shotgun.

13 comments

    • I think I felt I had to balance Golden Age with modern, but it might have something to do with the fact that most of the Rhode titles on my shelf are from his later output. He does have a drop in quality – some of the later titles are good, but some are… not. Currently fighting the urge to grab another one to make up for lost time. Actually, why fight it?

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  1. Like yourself I’ve been reading my way through Rhode and this title is the earliest of his that I have not yet read. Alas for me the least expensive copy I have been able to find is still more than I’m willing to pay. I heartily endorse your plea for reprinting Rhode’s work. Although that might cut in to the purchase of Brian Flynn re-issues.

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    • I’m missing Dead Men At The Folly and Hendon’s First Case from before this one (and have only dodgy e-copies of a few others). Those two are my focus at the moment for Rhode, but to be honest, I’d pick up any I hadn’t already got/read. All in all, I’m missing fourteen, but it’s been an absolute age since I’ve seen anything close to affordable.

      Needless to say, there are a lot more Burton books that I’m missing…

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  2. Yes, Burtons are far harder to find. While I own a few Rhodes and Burtons, I had been happily reading my way through a number of both via interlibrary loan from the University of Alberta (even though I’m in Ontario) but recent cuts in library funding have put an end to that program. I did recently buy a copy of THREE COUSINS DIE but the Rhode books I have not yet read are now mostly out of my price range except for a couple that are generally not well regarded. I still want to read those but am not willing to pay any sort of premium if they aren’t particularly good since I regard myself as more of a reader than a collector. The items I’d really like to get my hands on are DEATH PAYS A DIVIDEND, MURDER AT LILAC COTTAGE, and of course THE BLOODY TOWER. I prefer Rhode to Burton but perhaps that would change if I could get my hands on more of the better Burtons.

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    • I should warn you that Murder at Lilac Cottage is (IMHO) not one of Rhode’s better efforts – it features a particularly bad case of the doctor telling Hanslet and Waghorn something that they really ought to have thought of themselves. The only real point of interest is the murder method.

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  3. I believe the 1st editions of this contain a map? I only have the Collins paperback which doesn’t have it. Can anyone confirm it exists?

    I have all the Rhodes and am now only 5 away from completing the Burtons. I’m missing ‘To Catch A Thief’, ‘Charabanc Mystery’ and ‘Death of 2 Brothers’, none of which I have ever seen for sale. Apparently a copy of the last of those sold for 800 pounds on ebay some years ago….

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    • Very, very jealous. Another collector that I know who is in a similar position is also missing Death Of Two Brothers, so if it ever appears, you’ve got a fight on your hands.

      As for the map, I’ve only the paperback, but not sure why a map would be necessary. But that’s not prevented a map appearing in a book before

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    • There’s no map in the American edition, which may have the worse title but it has the better jacket in my view. Most Streets don’t have maps, sadly.

      I have Death of Two Brothers but never paid anything like that myself for it. I cot it just before Masters was going to press and was able to add a bit about it to the footnotes. It’s not bad at all but lacking in the author’s more ingenious devices.

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  4. The thing is, the literally bleeding tower (why?) on the English jacket looks nothing like the one in the book. The artist didn’t read the book, I’m guessing. The American jacket actually fits the book with its tower depiction.

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