John Rhode was arguably the most prolific of the Golden Age detective novelists, and because he wrote so much, his work tends to be mixed in quality. But I must say that I really enjoyed his 1932 novel Mystery at Greycombe Farm, which shows his gift for plot construction at something close to its best.
Greycombe is owned by a wealthy man universally known as Farmer Jim, who is a very successful cider maker. When a dramatic fire destroys his cider, a body is found among the debris. It belongs to a man named Sibley, who had gone missing some months earlier.
The Chief Constable of Wessex is reluctant to call in Scotland Yard, but does not hesitate to seek the help of that tetchy and sometimes sarcastic old intellectual Dr Priestley. And needless to say, it is the good doctor’s deductions that help to unravel a complicated plot.
There is a clever device regarding the estimation of time of death which helps to confuse the reader, as well as the police. Rhode was very good at this sort of thing – he was interested in the mechanics of committing murder, and my impression is that he was much more at ease writing about things rather than people. He, and Priestley, are much less interested in motive. I must say that my personal tastes are very different, and frankly if Rhode had been more interested in the character of his murderer, he might have tried to explain why someone who commits a very clever crime then gives himself away so foolishly. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying a book that was some notches above some of the other Rhodes that I’ve read.