Policeman’s Lot (1933) by Henry Wade

Today I am reviewing this short story collection, which has been on my TBR pile the longest.

Synopsis for collection

‘The first half of this book consists of seven items from the case-book of Detective-Inspector Poole, whose brilliant work in The Duke of York’s Steps and No Friendly Drop will be remembered by all readers of Wade novels. The second half consists of six miscellaneous narratives of crime and detection, all of them displaying the scientific ingenuity which is one of the noteworthy features of Wade’s work, and remarkable for the variety of their settings.’

Duello

Detective Inspector Poole is called out to a case involving a duel in a field. Two men dressed in evening clothes, both shot, with a gun in their hand. However, the local Superintendent believes there is something not quite right about the scene. Neither we nor Poole are told what this is until the end, but thankfully Poole finds his own crime scene oddities and it is not long before the killer is startled into a confession. Although given the microscopic size of the suspect list, I don’t think anyone will be too surprised by the who of the mystery. This is a story to be read for the nature of the police investigation.

The Missing Undergraduate

I wondered if the title for this next story was deliberately meant to echo one of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but the solution, suffice to say, is far different to that of ‘The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter’ (1904). DI Poole is asked to investigate the disappearance of an Oxford university student. He was a bit of a practical joker, but it is when Poole alights upon a scrap of paper that he eventually unravels what has gone on. For the sake of spoilers I can’t say what the solution is, but trust me it’s bonkers!! Again we’re not really given a set of suspects to consider, more a case of following Poole around.

Wind in the East

This time Poole is tasked with discovering who burgled the Gainly household safe and killed Herbert Gainly in the attempt. It is the little details which can make a story amusing, as is the case here, when the story starts with Superintendent Flackett checking that Poole has the right change to get the bus to the crime scene. There is only one likely suspect, so the focus of the story is more of how Poole can prove their guilt. There is something a little bit R Austin Freeman about the piece, though luck is also on Poole’s side.

The Sub-Branch

Murder and robbery strike again in this tale, this time at a rural sub-branch of a bank which pops up once a week. This story however departs from the previous ones, as we don’t begin the tale with Poole, but instead with characters who are in the room above the bank. There is more than possible suspect in this mystery, which makes a change, although I still think the reader will identify the real culprit quite easily. It is not an inverted mystery, but in some ways operates like one. Nevertheless, the narrative has some clever misdirection when it comes to certain bits of evidence.  

The Real Thing

Albert Bidding is working one evening as a ticket collector at a London tube station, when the moving staircase deposits a corpse at the top. The victim was a barrister and Poole quickly identifies someone who would have had a grudge against him, so it is once more a case of waiting to see how Poole will locate and trap them.

The Baronet’s Finger

Poole is asked to protect a rich man named Sir Curtis Gayling, who believes his life is in danger, after he receives a number of threatening letters. Less than 24 hours into the job and Curtis has been shot dead in a locked room. Suicide is ruled out though through a previous finger injury and the local police, keen to outshine Poole, fix upon Curtis’ eldest son as a murderer instead. The solution to this one is a little more creative than some of the others in the collection.

The Three Keys

Two diamond merchants of Levi, Berg and Phillips, request the assistance of Scotland Yard after their safe is robbed of a large quantity of diamonds. Suspicion quickly fastens upon Phillips and his brother, but can Poole break down their alibis? This tale features alibi busting that Inspector French would have been proud of!

A Matter of Luck

Isidore Cohen, a money lender, is working late one night when a client calls in, Doctor Enterfield. He says he is visiting on behalf of a female patient, who wishes for Mr Cohen to visit her that very night in order to organise a loan. The doctor himself owes quite a bit of money, so naturally we wonder if this is a trap. In this mystery we have a criminal who thinks they have committed the perfect crime, but instead we watch as piece by piece their masterpiece of a plan is unravelled, (one piece of which I anticipated early on).

Four to One – Bar One

This story is included in the British Library Crime Classics anthology, Settling Scores (2020)

Payment in Full

This is another inverted mystery, of sorts, as we watch Police Sergeant Adams arrive at Major Konsett’s house late one night to have his revenge, for what the Major did to Adams’ daughter. Nevertheless, it is hard to predict which way the narrative will go at times and not least how it will end. Although we only see them for a short time, I felt the characterisation of the servants was very effectively done.

“Jealous Gun”

This tale begins with some terse comments about a local Chief Constable, whom it is said does not do enough work to be entitled to the pay he receives. After all he spends so much time shooting and hunting. So naturally, the rest of the story shows how the Chief Constable’s presence at a shoot enables him to anticipate a large-scale robbery, and all because a man poached other people’s shots during the shoot.

The Amateurs

Next up is a mystery which concerns two con artists who decide to steal Lady Marway’s expensive emeralds during a charity theatre production she is a part of. One of the criminals is more the brains of the outfit and he manages to get himself inveigles himself into the cast. But will they get away with their crime? The ending has a nice couple of kicks to it and I felt this story had the basis for a novel length mystery.

The Tenth Round

Given the aristocratic background of Wade, it is not surprising that he sets one of his stories around stag hunting, and I imagine he must have experienced them himself to provide the details he does. Wade would go on to write an inverted mystery involving stag hunting called Heir Presumptive (1935). A key point of ‘The Tenth Round’ concerns the conflicting attitudes about how stag hunting should be done. There is the Laird of Glentorr who ardently believes that it is an art form and that the greatest of care should be taken over choosing which animals to kill, how many, and how to dispatch the animal in the quickest way to avoid pain. On the other side there are outsiders, rich men, who have come for some fun, yet lack the skill required to kill their quarries swiftly and do not care if they only wound a stag. It is the conflict between these two positions which fuels the crime of the story. Once more it is fairly clear who is the guilty party.

Final Thoughts

At the beginning of my post I quoted the synopsis from the Green Penguin edition and it claims that all of the stories feature the ‘scientific ingenuity which is one of the noteworthy features of Wade’s work’ and that they are ‘remarkable for the variety of their settings.’ Looking back on this statement and the collection, I wondered how true this was. Ballistics is certainly something gone in to with the shooting-based deaths, and footprints are also valuable in solving some of the crimes, as well as fingerprints. However, luck definitely has an important role within these tales and often the scientific evidence points the policeman towards the right culprit, but it is the criminals who give themselves away, a confession having been triggered at the right psychological moment by the police. Regarding the settings I don’t think they are remarkable for the variety of their settings, country houses, shoots are quite common. The tube station killing is perhaps the more unusual setting. I was also interested to note that there is only one female killer and two thieves, with every other criminal being male. In the main the crooks come from the more “respectable” strata of society, including the military, police, landed gentry, medical field and businessmen.

This was a nice enough collection of stories. Nothing to knock your socks off, but some pleasing tales nevertheless.

Rating: 4/5

See also: Nick at The Grandest Game has also reviewed this title and includes contemporary reviews of the collection as well.

2 comments

  1. This book is actually pretty hard to come by in the US – I recall only ever seeing affordable editions from UK sellers – which seems a bit odd, as typically the Penguins aren’t that difficult to obtain. I hadn’t realized that this was a short story collection; it’s nice to see a review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so used to you being able to get your hands on any nice edition of a classic crime novel, that it is surprising at last to find one which is not easy to get. I didn’t know it was a short story collection either until it arrived.

      Like

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