Up The Garden Path (1949) by John Rhode

Henry Tyning was getting a little bored listening to the old inventor Gabriel Hockliffe when the night outside was broken by a cry, seemingly that of a woman. On leaving the safety of Prior’s Farm, Hockliffe’s home, they discovered the dead body of Pauline Clobery, lying on the garden path with her head smashed in. Events quickly follow that lead to her husband, Don, being arrested for her murder. After all, nobody else had a motive for killing the woman.

Henry Tyning, who happened to be Don’s lawyer, doesn’t have any real reason to doubt his client’s guilt, but something feels wrong, so he asks Superintendent Jimmy Waghorn to look into it unofficially – as Scotland Yard can’t intervene without being requested to by the local force and they have their man. Jimmy agrees but nothing he sees give any reason to doubt Don’s guilt.

And then a week later, another body is found with their head smashed in, on the same spot on the garden path…

So, I managed to get my hands on an affordable copy of this John Rhode/Dr Priestley title the other day. I’ve basically realised that short of a mass reprint, I’m never going to get the Miles Burton titles that John Street wrote under that pseudonym, but I’m doing pretty well with the Dr Priestley books with only about ten left to find. It’s a shame that I prefer the Burton books to the Priestley ones, but you can’t have everything.

This, I should point out, is the John Rhode Up The Garden Path, not the Miles Burton Up The Garden Path. John Street kept his second pseudonym something of a secret during his life – was using the same title twice part of this game? I don’t know – both books were retitled in the US to The Fatal Garden (this one) and Death Visits Downspring (the other one), which kind of takes the fun out of things.

Anyway, on to this one and it’s… well, it’s hardly Rhode on top form. The pacing is the biggest problem as the case only really gets interesting with the second death – even Priestley admits at one point that without that, he thought Don killed his wife – but once that happens (after 80 or so pages) almost all that has gone before becomes irrelevant, like episode 1 of an old 3 part Taggart serial. And then we get a load of guff about forgeries or something – sorry, my brain was switching off at this point. I’ve said before that Rhode does like his criminal schemes at times, and as with other times when they’ve been allowed to dominate – Pinehurst, for example, or Proceed With Caution – it doesn’t lead to his best work. It doesn’t help that to me, at least, what had happened was pretty obvious. The “why” not so much – still don’t really understand it but I had all but switched off at that point – but waiting for the rest of it to be confirmed, rather than revealed seemed to take an inordinate amount of time.

This is the problem with Rhode – his output is so variable. When it’s good, it can be outstanding. When it’s bad, it can be terrible. And sometimes, like with this one, it just seems… ordinary.

Anyone else read it?

One comment

  1. I certainly have to agree as regards the variability of Rhode/Burton both in type and level of quality regarding his books and suggest the reason is at least partly the great variety of crimes involved. While this is probably true for police investigators the author’s job is to make all investigations interesting. Rhode can keep me guessing with even the smallest pool of suspects but sometimes his policemen are to inclined to accept too much at face value. It is only then that Merrion or Priestley demonstrate the dangers of such acceptance. While I personally enjoy this style of crime writing, it does not make for the dramatic reveal used to such effect by Christie etc. since it usually is no reversal but a resolution due to the clarification of previously considered possibilities.
    Incidentally, there have been several more Burton books posted to archive.org including The Devereux Court Mystery, Murder In Absence and Heir To Murder.


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