Family Affairs (1950) by John Rhode

Edward Drayton was found dead in a ditch. His car had driven into a ditch, everything seemed to show it was an accident. He had been driving in the dark with his headlights off (for some reason) and missed a turning. Maybe he was intoxicated – he had stopped at several pubs along the way. There was a reason for that – he worked for his family company, the Leopard Brewery, collecting the money that was owed by the pubs. Money that was not in the car when it was found…

With the money missing and the disappearance of Drayton’s female passenger, it looks like the work of a criminal gang, but Superintendent Jimmy Waghorn, acting on the advice of Dr Priestley, feels that the answer may be much closer to home…

This is a tricky book to review, plot-wise as it takes something of a left-turn just over halfway through. To be fair, the blurb, should you have the original dustjacket, does mention the overall structure of the story, whereas the book isn’t written that way, giving the feeling that the reader is supposed to be surprised when the focus of the story changes significantly.

And this leads to the problem with the book. Rhode is playing with the conventions of the genre here, trying to misdirect by undermining the reader’s expectations, but the difficulty here is that it makes the final revelations distinctly underwhelming. I’ll admit that two-thirds of the way in, I was expecting a different sort of story – one story in particular – but as it went on, it was clear that this wasn’t what was happening. And so my mind went to “surely it can’t be…” and lo and behold… The resolution to one aspect annoyed me a lot in another Priestley book and had the same effect here as well.

It is hard to discuss this too much without spoiling the plot, but it’s worth pointing out that this is another Jimmy Waghorn mystery with guest appearances from Dr Priestley. Priestley isn’t a vast amount of help here, and while fans of police procedurals will enjoy the detail of the investigation, one can’t help thinking that a more thorough investigation into one aspect of the plot would have cornered the murderer a lot quicker. But for some reason, Jimmy never really seems to consider that bit very seriously.

So, definitely not the Rhode to start off your reading (if you can find it, that is). There are interesting bits and I can see what Rhode was going for with some game-playing – I just don’t think it works… just like the murder method.

5 comments

  1. I do like John Rhode. Going in, one is never entirely certain just what type of book he is going to write. It might be a straightforward here is a murdered body, solve the case. It might be a “was it or wasn’t it a murder” case. It might be a serial killer case or an espionage case. I even remember one where despite multiple murders the villain did not even appear until the case was essentially over. And boy did he have some interesting methods of providing a corpse (or five). Plus I enjoy reading about the lives of ordinary people from what is really not so long ago but is so very different from today. This one however I have yet to read so I appreciate the review.

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    • Here you go – nice idea with the code idea, might use it in reviews when I want to do spoilers.

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  2. There are certainly problems with some of Rhode’s later work (although in the immediately post-war period he did produce some excellent books, such as “Death in Harley Street”). I’ll read this one if I ever find a copy, but my hopes won’t be excessively high.

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