Dr Priestley Investigates (1930) by John Rhode

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Hangman’s Noose

Also known under its British title Pinehurst, Rhode’s novel has garnered quite a handful of positive reviews over time. Bookman likened the serial sleuth Dr Priestley to ‘Sherlock Holmes’, whilst Will Cuppy (whoever he is) thought this story was an ‘ingenious’ tale, as did the Saturday Review of Literature, who also said that ‘Dr Priestley’s ratiocinations are a joy to follow.’ Having now read the book in question, I am wondering if I was reading the same book. Suffice to say like the Puzzle Doctor at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel blog I did not hugely enjoy this book.

To be fair to Rhode the story does start out quite well. One rainy November evening, Thomas Awdrey is pulled in for drunken driving in Lenhaven. It is only on further examination of the vehicle that the police realise that the very drunk Awdrey has a passenger, who is decidedly extinct of life. A more thorough examination leads to the conclusion that Awdrey had run the man over and in his intoxicated state put him in the car to get help; a theory Awdrey demonstrably denies, when he’s sober and takes some convincing that he even had a dead man in his car. He firmly believes that he only had a stone bust in his car, which he was taking to a friend. It’s just a pity that it is no longer there and in fact is later found in the friend’s house. With such a shoddy explanation for events he is soon arrested for manslaughter.

Despite this being such a seemingly open and shut case, the police’s attention is drawn to the victim, Mr Coningsworth’s home, Pinehurst and its remaining residents. There is much to make a mystery reader suspicious, from the outlandish way the Coningsworths took over the home to Mr Coningsworth’s obsessive fear of being burgled. Though in this latter respect his fear might have been justified, as burglary does occur. But why would someone steal some brass door fittings? With such an odd set of circumstances it is lucky that this case is mentioned to Dr Priestley who immediately decides to get involved.

Yet unfortunately despite this intriguing initial setup the book failed to grab my interest. The murder method may have been bizarre and unusual, but it equally felt highly unnecessary. Furthermore, Dr Priestley is too much of a speculating sleuth for my liking. His theories seem to come out of nowhere, latching on to parts of the solution inexplicably. Though having said that I did figure out quite a few parts of the ultimate solution, including what I presume was its main surprise. Like the Puzzle Doctor I also didn’t appreciate the extensive backstory. It made the solution fit together in terms of motivations, but it was overly long, highly fantastical and it did feel like a lazy way of getting your solution to come together. Criminal blundering and confession are also other tools which appear a bit too much in this story. A slightly dry writing style I could have coped with, but even when writing about events which should have been dramatic and exciting, Rhode didn’t really engage my attention much. Characterisation was also a bit too minimal, considering the odd personalities involved. However I must say I was impressed by Awdrey’s ability to consume large amounts of alcohol in relatively short spaces of time, thinking nothing of drinking ‘three or four double whiskies, to keep the cold out’ in 15 minutes. The opening pages of this book could make for a very lethal drinking game.

Rating: 3/5

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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2 Responses to Dr Priestley Investigates (1930) by John Rhode

  1. I was worried when you said you thought the opening was good. I enjoyed the start as well, but it does deteriorate badly – I will say though that Rhode is usually better than this. And apologies for the rubbish Secret Santa present…

    Liked by 1 person

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