By John Rhode
First published: UK, Collins, 1936; US, Dodd Mead, 1940, as In the Face of the Verdict
This is, as Dr. Priestley remarks of the considerably ingenious murder, “a highly-skilled piece of work, displaying considerable ingenuity. It showed signs of preliminary study and careful preparation.” Dr. Priestley, called in by Dr. Oldland to help a patient of his who believes a friend was murdered, is active from page 1 (his unusual activity suiting one of Rhode’s most briskly-paced books), and his brain at its keenest as he sleuths around the harbour town of Blacksand to discover the murderer of two brothers, both of whom drowned. The method used in the first murder is particularly clever (although a similar device was used in Philip MacDonald’s The Choice); and, although the murderer only makes his appearance at the end of the book, we know what he is from early on.
The sheer ingenuity of Mr. John Rhode is deservedly a matter for enthusiasm. He is certainly one of our most resourceful providers of puzzles that are real brain-teasers. “Accidental death by drowning”, was the verdict at the inquest on Major Walter Bedworthy. But Sir John Hallatrow, the Major’s close friend, suspected murder. His suspicions were confirmed when some days later Ernest Bedworthy, Walter’s brother, was also found drowned. Dr. Priestley, with his uncanny appreciation of the true significance of facts, showed an immediate interest in bicycles, telepathy and wills—all of which have a bearing on this most baffling case. Assisted by Superintendent Hanslet and young Jimmy Waghorn, he succeeds in bringing to justice one of the cleverest of murderers.
The verdict at the inquest was “Accidental death by drowning,” but Sir John Hallatrow was not satisfied. His suspicions were confirmed some days later when the victim’s brother was also found drowned
Dr. Priestley is called on to lend a hand, and, following his customary practice of a careful and scientific approach to all problems, he lays bare a plot of fiendish skill whose solution is guaranteed to take the most astute readers by surprise.
Times Literary Supplement (Caldwell Harpur, 1st August 1936):
The victim used to cross a grassy meadow to a footbridge, guided on dark nights by the alignment of two lights behind him. So the murderer displaced one light, by two mirrors on posts, and planted two more white posts by the river to look like the bridge. The victim was drowned, and the coroner’s jury said accident; but the murderer, who had shown such surprising skill in planting posts in pitch darkness and haste, forgot to fill the holes when he pulled them up again. This was fatal, for Dr. Priestley, who has solved several mysteries for Mr. Rhode before, was asked in again.
Even Dr. Priestley would not have been sure there had been a crime if the criminal had not tried to throw the blame of it on a poacher. Telepathy plays a part, or rather fraud in telepathy’s name; indeed, the reader’s first hint of the real criminal comes when he hears that the yearly subscription to the Institute of Telepathic Research is the “nominal” amount of five guineas.
Observer (Torquemada, 2nd August 1936):
Dr. Priestley shares with other and more personally fascinating scientific detectives an almost pontifical infallibility. I do not see what Mr. Rhode can do about it now. Until the end of his cases, which I hope is far distant, we must resign ourselves to an old gentleman who is sometimes tiresome, often extremely interesting, and never wrong. In Face of the Verdict hardly “extends” him as a detective, the real brains in this case lying elsewhere; but Mr. Rhode has again used his nautical knowledge to good effect, though this is not in essence a book about the sea. ‘I may be more than usually dense, Professor,’ says Hanslett [sic] on page 234. We take a backward glance into the worthy Superintendent’s past and are able to reassure him.
Manchester Evening News
The story is alive from page one. There are times when I think John Rhode is the finest detective story writer of them all.
Time and Tide
First rate, with ingenious solution.
The solution of this mystery is really extremely clever.
E.R. Punshon in the Manchester Guardian
As is always the case with Mr. Rhode’s work, the construction is admirable, and the plot original.
Books (Will Cuppy, 13th October 1940, 160w):
Mr. Rhode provides a multitude of minute details in this slow but sure number. Thing to do is to stick to directions like grim death and try for a solution. In our opinion, Dr. Priestley can do no wrong, but his working material in this story is no more than average.
Sat R of Lit (26th October 1940l, 40w):
Time (4th November 1940):
Dr. Priestley, scientist, again works with Supt. Hanslet and Inspector Jimmy Waghorn. Major Bedworthy is drowned near Blacksand. Accident, says the jury. Maybe, says his friend and neighbour. Priestley ploughs around in rubber boots among motives of sex and money.
NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 17th November 1940, 160w):
In the Face of the Verdict is far more satisfactory than some of the recent Priestley stories have been.