The Davidson Case (1929) by John Rhode

Sir Hector Davidson is in charge of Davidson’s Ltd, a manufacturer of chemical apparatus, but he has more interest in his personal gain, rather than keeping the family business thriving, along with making inappropriate advances towards his secretary. In particular, he seems to be in the process of stealing his chief designer’s plans for himself.

And then one evening, Sir Hector heads home to Bratton Grange with a case containing valuable papers and machine parts. When his chauffeur doesn’t arrive, he accepts a lift from a local man in the back of his van. But when the van arrives at Bratton Grange, Sir Hector has been stabbed and the case has vanished. Enter Dr Priestley…

This is the seventh Dr Priestley book, released in the US as Murder At Bratton Grange, and at this stage in the series, the standard format hasn’t kicked in yet. Here Priestley is recruited by Guy Davidson, Hector’s cousin, rather than the police, and while Priestley soon begins to advise Hanslet, his investigations are, as usual, an intellectual exercise, rather than a quest for justice.

This is a tricky one to review as the strength of the tale is the overall plan of the villain of the piece, but needless to say, I can’t say much about that bit of the book, so forgive the vagueness of this comment. It’s one of those plans that you just shouldn’t think about the plot too much because there’s no way that it would have worked for as long as it did. And I had trouble with the notion that  Priestley didn’t work out what was going on.

Admittedly, Rhode does a nice job of concealing a vital point from him, a point that he does tell the reader in, to me at least, a too-obvious way. So to be fair, I can understand – just – why he didn’t spot the murderer, while I did from far too early for my liking. And by far too early, I mean as soon as the murder is committed. But it’s a credit to how the rest of the book plays out that I really didn’t mind. There’s some interesting stuff here, with, for once, a rationale for my least favourite GAD trope, and overall, it ends up being one of my favourite Rhode titles. And for once it’s got a clever title – in the UK at least.

It’s been a while since I read a Rhode or Burton title – nearly sixth months – I’d almost forgotten what a quality writer he could be when on form. Expect more very soon. I just wish we could expect more in the shops – someone persuade the right people to get in touch with Dean Street Press…

6 comments

  1. Seems a bit odd to have a cover that explicitly states that the detective is outwitted by the case, Doesn’t engender much confidence in the detective’s abilities.

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  2. I think this has a strong claim to be Rhode’s best book – and even if you spot the murderer, the narrative is interesting enough to keep you reading.

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