Murder at Derivale (John Rhode)

By John Rhode

First published: UK, Bles, 1958

Although extremely late and described as “worthless” by Barzun and Taylor, this is one of the better Rhodes we’ve read for a long time. Jimmy Waghorn is in good form as he investigates the poisoning (by gelsemine – c.f. Agatha Christie’s The Big Four) of a sinister squire found dead in a lorry parked in a neighbour’s yard. There is far more realistic police work than the posing of an orthodox problem; indeed, questions of who scarcely matter, so the end falls rather flat, but there’s an ingenious diamond smuggling scheme. Not comparable with the earlier Rhodes, but much better than one would expect.

Blurb (UK)

One cold morning in early January, Alfred Kinder, a lorry driver, set out before daybreak to pick up his vehicle and start the day’s work.  But someone had been there before him.  In the back of the lorry was slumped the body of a man, and Superintendent “Jimmy” Waghorn of New Scotland Yard, sent down to investigate the case, found he had a murder on his hands.  The investigation was made the more difficult in that Walter Hanslope, as the murdered man proved to be, seemed to have led such a quiet life in the little village of Derivale.  A widower of independent means, his main interests in life were good wines and comfortable living, and if he had made few friends, there seemed to be no one who disliked him enough to go to the lengths of murder.

But, by following up every clue, however slight, Jimmy Waghorn (with some helpful advice from Dr. Priestley) discovers one or two interesting facts about Hanslope, and these discoveries lead, in their turn, to a picture of his life far different from that of a country gentleman—and far more in tune with the act of murder.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 9th February—as Murder at Perivale.  Ace!):

Your old friend Jimmy Waghorn investigates poisoning of luxury-loving widow plus diamond-smuggling plot.  Usual interludes of cosy ratiocination in Dr. Priestley’s study.  Totally timeless.