Friday 22 April 2022

Forgotten Book - In Face of the Verdict

In Face of the Verdict is a Dr Priestley novel which John Rhode published in 1936. It's an uncommon title and I was pleased to lay my hands on a White Circle paperback edition. Rhode was probably at the height of his powers at around this time, so it was a novel which I looked forward to reading. As it turned out, it is most interesting as an example of Rhode's craft as a detective novelist, and the strengths and weaknesses of his methods.

The blurb says: 'The sheer ingenuity of Mr John Rhode is deservedly a matter for enthusiasm. He is certainly one of our more resourceful providers of puzzles that are real brain-teasers.' In this case, Major Walter Bedworthy (great name; no jokes, please) is found dead, and the inquest verdict, to which the title of the novel refers, is 'Accidental death by drowning'. But his friend Sir John Hallatrow isn't convinced, and he summons assistance from Priestley.

A few days later, the Major's brother, one Ernest Bedworthy, also drowns. You don't have to be Dr Priestley to conclude that there's no coincidence here. But, as usual with Rhode, the question is how did the killer commit the crimes? As the story proceeds, Rhode takes the opportunity to poke fun at temperance and telepathy (he clearly equates the latter with spiritualism) - he was a strictly practical chap who liked his beer, after all.

The murder method is elaborate and difficult to figure out, especially if like me you don't have a practical turn of mind. But I'm afraid I didn't care enough to try to solve the puzzle. Agatha Christie's skills at characterisation are often criticised, but compared to Rhode, she created in-depth people. It's clear that the starting point for the story was a clever m.o., but the way Rhode handled it meant that the culprit is a shadowy figure, while two wearisome red herring suspects take centre stage. Disappointing.


Jonathan O said...

Although I take your point about the characterisation, I still rate this as one of the better Rhode titles. (I was lucky enough to find this and three other of his works at the same time in a local bookshop some years ago, at a very reasonable price - bet that wouldn't happen nowadays!)

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, cheap earlyish Rhodes are few and far between!