Shot at Dawn, first published in 1934, is a whodunit by John Rhode (real name, Major Cecil Street) and features Rhodes’ regular amateur sleuth, Dr Priestley, who is the original grumpy old man, attended by a secretary called Harold Merefield, who helps him to deliver solutions to murder cases to Scotland Yard’s Superintendent Hanslet.
This case concerns a man whose body is found sprawled on his motor cruiser, which has anchored in the River Ridding. Who shot him, and why? His fellow sailor appears to have been in a drunken stupor when the crime was committed. But has he got something to hide?
After a pleasing start, the story gets bogged down in a lot of stuff about tides, and at one point Dr Priestley even commands the hapless Harold to draw a graph to cast some light on the mystery! The graph is duly reproduced, and provides a clue to the solution, but suffice to say that this method of investigation is less than exciting.
Happily, there is a very good solution to the puzzle that redeems the story. A weakness, though, is that the precise, as opposed to generic, motive remains unclear. Rhode was more interested in the velocity of motor cruisers than in a criminal’s psychological motivation. Unlike me.