By Henry Wade
First published: UK, Constable, 1934
In Constable Guard Thyself! Henry Wade reverts to the detective story pur sang and scores his greatest triumph.
Here is a closely argued and unusually skilful tale of murder with dialogue and characterization even more dexterous than usual. The most experienced reader of detective books will feel the thrill of following a complicated exercise in deduction, from the very moment when Captain Scole, Chief Constable of Brodshire, is found mysteriously shot in his office.
Inspector Poole, who distinguished himself in the Duke of York’s Steps and No Friendly Drop, and seven of whose cases were published not long ago in Wade’s short story volume Policeman’s Lot, is called in to unravel the mystery. The invitation to Scotland Yard is sent very much against the wishes of the police on the spot; and Poole, with his excellent assistant Sergeant Gower, has to solve a series of most perplexing problems in the face of active local hostility, the true reasons for which emerge as the story proceeds.
Wade’s best books mix detective puzzle and character study; his plots are admirably clear and concise, never deviating from probability; and his clues are well chosen.
Constable, Guard Thyself! has all of Wade’s merits. Here Wade puts a spin on the traditional gimmick of the guilty policeman by making all the suspects policemen. The victim is the Chief Constable of Brodshire, Captain Scole, who was shot in his office after Albert Hinde, a poacher framed on a charge of murder, threatened him.
Although Hinde is first suspect, the circumstances of the crime (so skilfully established by the author that the reader, with the aid of an excellent map, knows the situation at once) strongly indicate an inside job—and, unless Superintendent Jason killed him, an impossible crime.
The quiet and competent Inspector Poole is called in. He meets passive resistance from the acting Chief Constable, Superintendent Venning, but sets about detecting, testing and demolishing hypotheses. Poole is a sound detective, although his failure to read the Hinde report surprises. The in-depth police procedure is as interesting as the look behind the scenes, and the slow accumulation of facts makes for engrossing reading.
The solution is excellent, particularly the way in which the reader’s attention is diverted away from and then brought back to the Hindes. The exchange of identities, made possible by the First World War, is plausible; and the murder method is simple and convincing, Wade managing to explain away a possible flaw.
My chief complaint is Wade’s use of punctuation: “I’ld,” “he’ld” and “we’ld” are annoying affectations.
Sunday Times (Dorothy L. Sayers, 29th July 1934):
The week that brings a new Wade and a new Woodthorpe must be reckoned a gala week for detection-lovers; with Mr. Wade’s book, the accent is on the detection, with Mr. Woodthorpe’s on the gala.
Constable Guard Thyself! might serve as a model of the classical detective story, complete within its own sphere, and it preserves from beginning to end a perfect unity of tone and action; neither reaching out to the larger and looser universe of the straight novel, nor shrivelling to the dry and restricted two-dimensional circle of the mathematical puzzle. It is excellently constructed, the exposition in particular being worthy of all praise, and the characterisation is of the exact right kind to awaken “human interest” without swamping the plot in a flood of emotional excitement.
The scene is laid in the police-station at Brodbury, and Mr. Wade, unlike many of his colleagues, has taken pains to acquaint himself with the precise workings of the complicated police machinery. He understands the functions of the Chief Constable and his headquarters staff, their relations with the county police and the relations of both with the Joint Standing Committee (how many of us know or take the trouble to enquire about the existence of that important authority?), what steps are taken, and by whom to call in the help of Scotland Yard, and how the finance of the whole thing is handled.
Behind the Scenes
This provides the reader with that extra interest and sense of reality which always comes of “seeing the wheels go round”, and the ordinary citizen, meekly paying his rates, ought to take a more lively interest in that modest proportion of them allocated to “Police”, after reading this fascinating account of the organization which his 3d. or so in the £ helps to keep going.
The crime is the murder of the chief constable himself: the C.I.D. man is our old friend Inspector Poole; the clues are given with scrupulous—with even generous—fairness to the reader, and a touch of tragedy in the conclusion reminds us, very rightly, that murder is a melancholy business at best. Mr. Wade must be congratulated in general upon a very fine book, and in particular upon introducing and handling a large cast of police officials without ever once confusing us as to their duties and identities.
Times Literary Supplement (16th August 1934):
This is an excellent story, full of genuine detective interest. The Chief Constable of a county constabulary is found shot in his office. A plan of the police headquarters and the details of the location of all the officers on the premises make it appear that it must have been, and yet that it cannot have been, an inside job—cannot have been, that is to say, except for the distinctly suspicious circumstances in which the first officer found at the scene of the crime is placed. The experienced reader, however, will not be so attracted by this obvious suspect as by another individual who has an apparently sound alibi but a rather neutral characterisation, and this reader’s niggling inclination towards that culprit will prove at last to be justified. At the same time, it must be admitted that the puzzle held until the end: the “how” of the affair seemed insoluble. Mr. Wade’s painstaking Scotland Yard man is very pleasant to work with. The book has no defects except those which are pardonable and belong to a thoroughly solid and honest piece of work—namely, an occasional slowness of pace and a lack of character-interest.
In the unravelling of this pretty problem Mr. Wade shows his customary skill and his detailed, meticulous knowledge of police routine. It is that which keeps his books in the front rank of their class…This novel is well up to the author’s own high standard.
Francis Iles (Daily Telegraph):
A new novel by Henry Wade is now an event as well as a joy. This author improves with every book; with his first he took a high place in the detective story class, and now he must be bracketed at the top of it. This last is just about as good as a detective story can be. He knows his police procedure to the last inch, and the behaviour of his officials in this unprecedented crisis is not only technically impeccable but thoroughly human.