Bricklayer’s Arms (1945) by John Rhode

Charlie Dalston had spent his life as a deliveryman, transferring goods between the towns of Glavenham and Winghurst, but in all his years, he had never encountered a dead body on the road. Until now, obviously.

Algy Fratton, an estate agent, had been riding his motorcycle in the opposite direction to Charlie, but had come to a sticky end near a railway bridge. It seems a simple case of an accident until the post mortem reveals that Algy was struck in the head by something covered in grey paint. The tire tracks show that the only other car on the road was that of Ernest Fratton, Algy’s boss, but witnesses show that he was following Algy, not ahead of him.

Soon it attracts the interest of Scotland Yard and Inspector Jimmy Waghorn, but can Jimmy establish how Algy was killed, who committed the crime and who was the mysterious bricklayer spotted on the bridge? Well, he’s going to have to, because Dr Priestley isn’t going to help much…

Oh look, I’m doing requests now! “Jonathan O” mentioned this and By Registered Post in the comments to Death Of Two Brothers, and I thought, why not? This isn’t a Bodleian review, btw, I own a copy of this one under its US title, Shadow Of A Crime.

It’s an interesting one, for a few reasons. Published in 1945, so presumably written the previous year, but no mention of the war in this one – presumably the outcome was inevitable at this point. Superintendent Haslet has re-retired after being pulled out of retirement during the war and Waghorn is back at Scotland Yard.

Also, this is one of the earliest titles that I recall where Priestley doesn’t do an awful lot. It is he who gets Waghorn interested, as an old student of Priestley joins one of his dinners and relates the tale. A side note, Rhode again seems to have forgotten that Priestley is supposed to be a Professor of Mathematics, or was initially, as the old student is a medical doctor. Also, just saying, if he was a Professor as it is stated a few times, then his title is Professor Priestley… Thereafter, Jimmy briefs Priestley one more time, but Priestley isn’t that helpful or insightful. Then just when you’re expecting Jimmy to make one final see-the-light visit, he works it out for himself and arrests the murderer. Yes, long-time Rhode fans, Jimmy Waghorn solves the case!

The cynical among you might argue that the method takes an age for Waghorn to tumble to, mainly as he chooses to ignore the evidence of the tire-tracks – “maybe another car drove exactly in the others’ tracks” – but the identity of the murderer is well done. The reader might guess, but there’s an excellent distraction to make them reconsider.

All in all, this is another satisfying Rhode titles. One wonders, when does the rot really set in? I’ve read good late Burton titles but not a good very late Rhode title. Stay tuned and I’ll try and find out…

3 comments

  1. Glad to see you agree with me on this one. The first crime is an example of Rhode’s use of murder methods that would only have a low probability of working (if you ever get round to “By Registered Post”, there’s an even better example there).
    I’ve never seen the US cover before, but it’s a good deal better than the UK one.

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  2. I read every last John Rhode and Miles Burton for Masters of the Humdrum Mystery and for the life of me I cannot remember anything about this one aside from the motorcycle and the railway bridge. When I read it I classified this as an unmemorable one and moved on. You make me think I should look back at it.

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