Death of an Author (John Rhode)

By John Rhode

First published: UK, Bles, 1947

The author is a recluse living in a quiet village, and is blown up while chopping wood. With the second murder and its accompanying alibis, and a rather gruesome and sensationalistic third murder, the plot becomes extremely baffling. Plenty of ingenious complications keep the reader interested in the plot and hesitating between three good suspects, and the book benefits from the absence of fat: none of those apt-to-become-tedious speculative sessions with Priestley, who contributes very little. Where the book fails is in the solution: Waghorn pulls the solution out of a hat, with none of those pyrotechnic mental fireworks we expect from Priestley, but fireworks of a very different kind. For this reason, the solution is rather thrillerish, and unconvincing: indeed, rather artificial, and a disappointing ending for what began as a good tangle.

Blurb (UK)

The author, whose mysterious death is investigated in this book, was a certain Mr. Nigel Ebbfleet, who after years of writing without success produced a “best seller” and then astonished his publisher by announcing that he had quite decided never to write another line and was retiring to a country cottage to live a quiet life.  His subsequent murder might lead some readers to suspect the publisher; but Jimmy Waghorn and Dr. Priestley, proof against such hasty assumptions, reached a very curious conclusion.

John Rhode is recognised as a master of ingenious plots.  As the Manchester Guardian says: “What one looks for in his books and seldom, if ever, fails to find, is an exceedingly ingenious method of committing murder.  The reader is given every chance with clues and can only blame himself for his failure to realise their import.”

Contemporary reviews

John O’London’s Weekly (Evelyn Banks, 5th September 1947):

John Rhode can be counted on for an original method of murder.  In Death of an Author he has invented an ingenious type of long-distance or remote-control death which provides yet another headache for Jimmy Waghorn.  Dr. Priestley, of course, comes to Jimmy’s rescue.  Indeed, I often wonder what would happen to Jimmy if he were ever deprived of the doctor’s help.  And would he, unaided, have become as he now is, Superintendent, C.I.D.?

Sat R of Lit (21st February 1948, 40w):

Sinuous plot worked out with familiar Rhodesian finesse—and more action than usual.  Priestley–Hanslet–Waghorn combo works smoothly and well.

New Yorker (28th February 1948, 100w):

Rather pleasant, in a ponderous fashion.

NY Herald Tribune Wkly Bk R (Will Cuppy, 7th March 1948, 220w):

Mr. Rhode provides one of those satisfying British stories in the old tradition, full of mystery meat and brain-work.