The Hanging Woman (John Rhode)

By John Rhode

First published: UK, Collins, 1931


My review

An early John Rhode more interesting for what it reveals about Priestley’s character than as a detective story. The identity of the man who hanged a young woman and caused an aeroplane pilot to crash his plane is obvious from the very beginning, so we anticipate the solution long before Priestley does. Indeed, although Priestley makes some clever deductions from a ball of French newspapers and the layout of the house in which the crime is committed, the detection is slow. The middle half of the book is entirely taken up with an attempt to trace the victim’s movements in London and by rail. Yet the book is consistently entertaining, principally due to the book’s dominant theme, explored through the characters of Dr. Priestley and Charles Partington, the enigmatic scientist at the heart of the story: the manner in which science can be a dehumanising process.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (25th June 1931):

Gossip in the servants’ hall at Quarley House pointed to a liaison between the master’s private pilot and a young lady who had been spending a week-end there as a guest.  But Mr. Partington’s step-sister, who kept house for him, was also supposed to have a share in the young airman’s affections.  When, therefore, André crashed and broke his neck, the reactions of the two girls naturally gave rise to some speculation, since neither of them seemed to be greatly affected by the accident.  Hardly a week later, Miss Bartlett, who had returned on more than one occasion to the village after her original visit, was found hanging in the kitchen of a deserted mansion.  Why she had committed suicide—and there was no reason to suspect foul play—was a question that the local police, with the help of the Yard, found themselves unable to answer.  It was Dr. Priestley, Mr. Rhode’s amiable and distinguished scientist, who suggested that Inspector Hanslet should concentrate his attention on events preceding the two deaths.  Hanslet, who knew that Priestley’s interest in such things was not prompted by any desire to make fools of the police, took his advice, and was soon able to discover some important clues to the mystery.  Mr. Rhode is too artful to withhold from his readers these vital pieces of evidence.  Step by step we are permitted to follow them up until, with Dr. Priestley’s help, we hit upon the solution of this very well constructed, well written, and, above all, convincing story.

Sydney Morning Herald (26th June 1931):


Two good crime stories have recently appeared.  [The other is Carl Clausen’s Jaws of Circumstance.]  The first, Mr. John Rhode’s The Hanging Woman, is a worthy successor to his Tragedy on the Line, in which a crime so “perfect” was committed that even the brilliant Dr. Priestly [sic] had to await a death-bed confession before he could complete his investigations.  In The Hanging Woman the actual murder is not so cunning or scientific.  The villain hangs his victim from a beam in a haunted house under circumstances that suggest that she has committed suicide.  But the crime has its flaws, and there are two or three clues which put Dr. Priestly [sic] smartly on the trail.  The result is a fascinating and carefully constructed story.

NY Times (F.S. Nugent, 2nd August 1931, 180w):

The tale should perplex the most acute reader and this without the author having had recourse to any deception save that of the crime itself.

Sat R of Lit (W.C. Weber, 15th August 1931, 100w):

The most captious mystery addict may read it with pleasure.

E.C. Bentley in the Daily Telegraph

Mr. John Rhode has a decidedly gruesome plot in The Hanging Woman, whose body is discovered in an unoccupied mansion in the depths of Essex.  This is not the only murder, and behind two fiendishly ingenious crimes there lurks something worse than a good many murders are.  It is a thoroughly well-managed mystery that Superintendent Hanslet and Dr. Priestley manage between them to penetrate.

Roger Pippett in the Daily Herald

An extraordinary problem, well-drawn and brilliantly sustained.  Mr. Rhode is the man to watch.