The Hanging Captain (1933) by Henry Wade

It has been a while since I have read anything by Wade, but a fortuitous charity shop visit gave me some lucky finds and this is one of them. The story opens with a tennis party. Gerald Sterron is staying with his brother and his wife, Herbert and Griselda, after having spent many years working abroad. However even a casual visitor such as Sir James Hamsted can see that Herbert and Griselda’s marriage is far from happy, with Griselda becoming awfully chummy with the adventurous and unconventional Sir Carle Venning. Many years ago Herbert mysteriously resigned his commission and removed Griselda and his wife from their busy London social world to his rural ancestral home. Although Herbert shows little interest in his wife nowadays that doesn’t stop him from being maddeningly jealous of his wife and Venning. He hints at various schemes he has to thwart them and we are not surprised that his brother is rather worried about him. We are also not surprised that the next morning Herbert is found hanging in his study. The evidence initially seems very much in favour of this being a case of suicide. Superintendent Dawle is not entirely convinced, but his superior is not agreeable to him interrogating some of the county’s most important people. However later events free Dawle’s hands to investigate, even if he has to work alongside an inspector from Scotland Yard.

Given that this is one of Wade’s earlier novels there is still a very strong focus on the puzzle element of the mystery. Clues are given to the reader to work with, though Wade does not always provide an immediate interpretation, as for instance Superintendent Dawle tells his sergeant to look at a mark made on the curtain pole Herbert was hanging from. However Gable is not that bright and doesn’t get the significance, after all he ‘was not qualifying for the role of Watson.’ Yet Dawle does not fill in the missing information at this point. It is left unsaid and it is up to the reader to see what Dawle meant. This is a thoroughly investigated case, as there are a number of unbreakable alibis to go into, but I think Wade writes about it engagingly and I think it helped having two detectives to follow.

Whilst this is definitely a puzzle focused novel, I still think it can be seen as a transitioning text for Wade between his puzzle focused novels and his character ones. Character depictions although not always long are insightful, especially in the opening chapters, where Griselda’s clothes are allowed to be representative of her mood or emotions. Furthermore, the gardens of Ferris house can be read as symbolic of Griselda and Herbert’s marriage:

‘A glance at the garden was sufficient hint of the shadow which overhung the fine old house. Weed-encumbered beds and paths, untrimmed edges, overgrown shrubberies, told their tale of straitened means – or neglect sprung from a broken spirit.’

Some which intrigued me when reading this book was the inclusion of Herbert having a marital health issue. It is very euphemistically discussed so it is hard to determine the exact nature of the problem and in the light of the book’s final solution I am still somewhat puzzled. [This isn’t a spoiler as the link to the solution is quite slight.] Nevertheless it was quite interesting to see such a problem even being included in a golden age detective fiction novel.

Although quite a long story, 300 pages, I think Wade maintains the mystery effectively, with many moments of gentle comedy and the solution did catch me by surprise. Once I got my head around the solution though there was a definite “oh of course aren’t I a complete nitwit” sort of moment. This was an enjoyable return to Wade and I look forward to reading the other two books of his I have soon.

Rating: 4/5

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Curtain

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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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13 Responses to The Hanging Captain (1933) by Henry Wade

  1. JJ says:

    One of these days I will I will I will get round to Wade — he sounds very much like my kind of thing, and with ost of his books being available through The Murder Room (and that disappearaing at some point in the future) it’s sheer madness that I haven’t read anything yet. There are just so many books, y’know? It’s madness trying to keep up…

    Oh, and I presume you mean a mental health issue, rather than a martital one, right? Or is that a turn of phrase I shold know?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes early Wade would be up your street definitely, though I appreciate that there is so little time and far too many books to read. Perhaps we need to clone ourselves or learn the ability to read in our sleep? I didn’t mean a mental health issue, I did mean a marital one (I.e. relating to relations between a married couple). My understanding was that it was a turn of phrase which is an umbrella term for medical problems relating to marital relations. Can’t pin it down any further as Wade is so blooming euphemistic.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. TomCat says:

    Adey listed this book as a locked room mystery, but you make no reference in your review to any kind of impossibility. So is it an impossible crime or did Adey mislabel it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it is perhaps a mislabelling. The study door is locked from the inside, key in lock and there is a narrow window of time for the killing to take place, but the study window is unlatched and can be accessed by ladder is need be. Therefore whilst the killing may be hard to do it is not impossible in my opinion.

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  3. Very interesting review of a good book. Not one of his best, but definitely worth reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Joan Kyler says:

    I’ve read several Wades over the years and like his books. I actually had a copy like the one in the photo. In the 1980s, Barns & Noble in Boston used to have lots of the Perennial mysteries on their discount table and I scooped them up whenever I saw them. I walked past the store on my way to and from work. Very dangerous!

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  5. JFW says:

    Thanks for the review. 🙂 I’ve this title lurking somewhere in my Kindle, but I’ve not picked up anything by Henry Wade since I read ‘The Duke of York’s Steps’. I recall reading – on Curt’s blog, I think – that ‘The Dying Alderman’ is meant to be even better than ‘The Hanging Captain’. More treats in store, I guess!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Santosh Iyer says:

    BIG SPOILERS IN THIS COMMENT

    Regarding the marital health issue, I quote from A Catalogue of Crime by Barzun and Taylor regarding this book:
    “The murder of the syphilitic elder son is credibly and creditably brought home to the one who at first seemed a very unlikely suspect.”
    Of course, the authors are discussing the Costable 1932 edition and it is possible that the concerned word may have been substituted by euphemisms in later editions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just added a spoiler warning to your comment as it does reveal quite a bit. But thanks for clearing up the issue over what was wrong with Herbert. My edition is very euphemistic and no medical terms are used. Makes sense now, though I still have a query about something in the solution, but something I can share without using big spoilers.

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  7. Pingback: Heir Presumptive (1935) by Henry Wade | crossexaminingcrime

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