Friday 9 February 2018

Forgotten Book - The Paddington Mystery

John Rhode published The Paddington Mystery in 1925, shortly after beginning a career as a crime writer, and this novel is notable because it introduces Dr Lancelot Priestley, the veteran professor of mathematics who was to become one of the most renowned amateur "great detectives" of the Golden Age. I was especially thrilled to acquire my copy of this book a short while ago, because although it is not a first edition, it once belonged to the Detection Club and bears the bookplate of their library; Rhode not only donated it, but signed it.

The story begins with amiable but raffish young Harold Merefield (pronounced "Merryfield", we're told) going home one night only to find a corpse. The identity of the dead man is not traced by the police, but since the deceased appears to have met his end  through natural causes, Harold doesn't find himself locked up on a murder rap. Unfortunately, the incident doesn't do his reputation any good, and makes it less likely than ever that he'll ever be able to rekindle his romance with Priestley's attractive daughter April. His association with a dubious woman called Vere doesn't help, either.

Harold decides to take the bull by the horns and consult Priestley. Although the older man can be irascible as well as cerebral, he has a kindly side to his nature, and is already on good terms with the police because of his interest in detection. He takes a keen interest in what the Press call "the Paddington Mystery" and starts to make enquiries.

So far, so good. Unfortunately, the story is pretty thin. It would have made a high calibre short story, but the eventual explanation goes on almost interminably, and the main twist is foreseeable, although there is one element of it that is rather pleasing and unusual. Not a masterpiece, by any means, but a book of historic interest. And it's pleasing to report that the book will be reissued in the Detective Story Club next June. Tony Medawar has written an intro which I'm sure will be informative.

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