John Rhode, like so many of his Detection Club colleagues, was fascinated by true crime, and he was one of those novelists (Raymond Chandler, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and recently P.D. James, are others) who was enthralled by the mystery surrounding the Wallace case. Did the mild-mannered insurance agent William Wallace batter his wife Julia to death with a poker, or was someone else guilty? To this day, there is not a total consensus. Sayers suspected he was innocent, but I'm not sure Rhode took the same view.
He adapted the case for fictional purposes in The Telephone Call in 1944. For good measure, he returned to it again four years later in Vegetable Duck, which is my Forgotten Book for today. Here is where I confess my ignorance - "vegetable duck" is apparently a delicacy of sorts, a marrow stuffed with mince, which happens to be the favourite foodstuff of one of the characters in the novel. I must admit, though, that I'd never heard of it. And it's not on the menu at any of the happily numerous pubs which do meals in this neck of the woods!
Rhode makes explicit reference, more than once, to the Wallace case in this book. The circumstances of the murder are very different from those in the original crime - you guessed it, the vegetable duck is poisoned - and the setting is a reasonably prosperous part of London rather than a northern city. But the type of "alibi" put forward by Wallace is used by the victim's husband here. Dr Priestley utters words of wisdom in the background, but the main detecting is done by a cop, Jimmy Waghorn, who often featured in Rhode stories.
I enjoyed this book. It was crisp and readable, and contained a number of points of interest. Rhode's technique means that I was able to spot the culprit on first appearance, but the means by which the dreadful deed were done remained unclear to me at that stage. "Means" fascinated Rhode rather more than they do me, or most other modern writers. But he was a capable performer, and this is a good example of his post-war work.