Murder At Lilac Cottage (1940) by John Rhode

In the village pub in Matchingfield, the usual bar crowd hears Philip Derrington heading home to Lilac Cottage from the railway station on his motorcycle. Later, however, one of the villagers by the name of Taunton stumbles into the pub in shock, having apparently discovered Derrington’s body. Derrington had been killed by a blow to the head from an iron bar. With the local police at a loss, Jimmy Waghorn from Scotland Yard is called in.

It seems Derrington had a secret that nobody in the village suspected – his trips to London every day were for supplying drugs to his customers, in particular cocaine. Was it this side of his life that caused his death? Was it the fact that he was stepping out with Taunton’s wife? Jimmy is becoming more and more certain that Taunton is the killer – thankfully Dr Priestley becomes interested in the surprisingly normal-looking crime.

My my, what an imaginative cover…

This is the second of three obscure mystery novel reviews, as I decided to pop down to Oxford to avail myself of the treasures of the Bodleian Library. Rather than indulge in the final three Brian Flynn books that I have yet to read, I decided to mix and match my authors. The first was the opening title from Belton Cobb, but for John Rhode, I decided to hit the war years, with this one chosen as for a long time, the only copy for sale was a bargain at £1400!

It was published during the war, but I have no idea when exactly it was written – Rhode churned out his books at one hell of a pace, but I’ve no idea how long it took to get to press. Anyway, the content is nothing to do with the war – Waghorn is still with Hanslet who hasn’t retired yet, either for the first or second time. However, the blurb inside the book is rather interesting. It reads:

CARELESS TALK may give away Vital Secrets. And sometimes it may happen that tittle-tattle provides the first clue in a murder mystery.

So there’s definitely a “Careless Talk Cost Lives” message going on there, somewhat shoe-horned into the blurb as it may well be that sometimes that happens, but I didn’t notice it happening here.

It’s an enjoyable Rhode title albeit with nothing particularly remarkable about it. The plot keeps moving around, from Waghorn in the village to Hanslet in London tracing Derrington’s customers, and some insight (or lack of it) into drug use – Hanslet advising a woman to “try really hard” to give up the drug, causing her to walk off with a simple “I can’t” stands out, although I’m not sure if it’s Rhode showing Hanslet’s lack of awareness to a serious problem, or it’s just Rhode’s lack of awareness.

Waghorn is as dim as ever. There’s a nice bit when he points out that just hearing a motorbike doesn’t mean it’s the person you think riding it, so he’s got a bit of a brain about him, but that does prove to be utterly irrelevant, while he spends a lot of time overlooking something that he just ignores for most of the tale. Also, his inability to spot a murderer is fully on display here – the villain is almost as obvious as this guy.

All in all, this is an entertaining if unremarkable Rhode title – definitely not worth £1400, but well worth a reprint (along with most of his back catalogue…) There is some good scene setting, and the character work is better than the Humdrum-sayers may expect. It’s just at the end of the day, the killer needed to be better hidden.


  1. Fortunately, for those of us in Canada where Rhode is out of copyright, there is a kindle version for much less than a print copy.


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