By Henry Wade
First published: UK, Constable, 1932; US, Harcourt Brace, 1933
THE HANGING CAPTAIN is the sixth – and in the opinion of our advisers – the finest of Henry Wade’s detective stories, a list of which appears on the back of this wrapper.
“The Hanging Captain” is the sixth – and the finest of Henry Wade’s detective stories. In this story of a murder that almost was mistaken for suicide, the keen but friendly rivalry of two detectives, Lott of Scotland Yard and Superintendent Dawle of the county constabulary, furnishes a double thread of dramatic interest. From the first page until the last, this is an exciting story told with skill and adds one more excellent book to Henry Wade’s list. Definitely one of the best detective stories.
The hanging captain’s death is believed to be a suicide (possibly due to impotence, a desire to frame his wife’s lover, or financial difficulties) until a Dr. Priestleyish guest proves murder, much to the horror of the Chief Constable, who wishes to hush it all up. There are only two suspects, who, of course, each need a detective to follow their trail: an interesting technique that, dividing the reader’s sympathies between the cocky and impetuous Lott and the unimaginatively logical Dawle, focuses the interest on the detection without the need for any silly most unlikely culprit. The book hits a plateau where Lott checks the High Sheriff’s theatrical Birmingham alibi. Otherwise, one can only applaud Wade’s cunning manipulation of alibis, motives, and circumstantial evidence.
Why doesn’t Lott consider that the Braston tyre mark could have been left before the night of the crime?
Times Literary Supplement (29th September 1932):
This is a detective story for connoisseurs, for those who value clear thinking and good writing above mere ingenuity and easy thrills. Mr. Wade has proved in his earlier novels how competent he is to present and analyse a difficult problem, and, in his latest, he displays to an even greater degree his masterly handling of motives and alibis. The fact that the captain was presumed to have hanged himself gives Mr. Wade ample opportunity for introducing his characters and disclosing in a perfectly open manner what each was doing on the fatal night. It is only after Mr. Wade reveals, during the luncheon adjournment at the inquest, a very subtle piece of evidence in support of murder that the reader’s suspicions are actively engaged. Thereafter, in the sympathetic company of the local detective and a friendly assistant of the C.I.D., he is given the fullest opportunity for testing the alibis of the possible suspects and deciding which of them had the strongest motive for committing the crime. As in real life, so in this imaginary tale, the solution is achieved, not by any brilliant conjectures or fortuitous discoveries, but by the patient accumulation of every scrap of evidence and the deductions to be drawn from them by a well-trained mind.
The Hanging Captain is even richer than usual…One of the few detective stories I know that stand up to the test of re-reading.