The House on Tollard Ridge (John Rhode)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A spooky atmosphere, better than average characterization, and two clever murders make this one of the best early Rhodes.  Similar to Agatha Christie‘s “Wireless”.

Blurb (UK)

Rhode - The House on Tollard Ridge.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Dr. Priestley has already gained no small reputation as an ingenious and enthusiastic investigator of crime.  The public will remember his masterly solution of the strange case of the Brothers Heatherdale and the S.S. Brackenthorpe Manor (as narrated in “DR. PRIESTLEY’S QUEST”); his intervention to stop that gruesome series of outrages known as the Murders in Praed Street; his enquiry into the mysterious murder of Sir Noel Ellerby; and his consummate analysis of the strange problem presented by the tragedy at “The Unicorn.”

But possibly none of his cases has provided such curious and bizarre features as the mystery of the house on Tollard Ridge and the queer death of old Mr. Barton…

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Professor Edwin Hamlin Woodruff, 17th January 1929): Among the numerous company of those who write detective fiction there are comparatively few who care more for their plots than their thrills, and in this select company Mr. John Rhode stands in the front company with Mr. Wills Crofts and Mr. Connington.  His Tragedy at the Unicorn might reasonably be considered the best detective story of 1928, and he has begun the new year with a successor but little inferior to it.  The House on Tollard Ridge is extremely well done.  It begins with a slight variant on the classical opening of an elderly man found murdered in his sitting-room.  Generally this means the gradual unfolding of the past of the murdered man, and generally the past explains the murder.  In this story there is no such familiar development, and the superintendent who follows the orthodox lines produces a barely averted miscarriage of justice.  Circumstantial evidence is, in fact, indicted rather in the manner of Trent’s Last Case.  The flaw in Mr. Rhode’s story is that from the first suspicion is limited to a very small circle, and the practised reader will probably fasten on the decisive clue before reaching the fiftieth page.  It speaks much for the intellectual quality of Mr. Rhode’s construction that the how and why of the crime are quite as interesting to follow out as the question who did it.  Later in the story he attempts to divert suspicion by sliding into Christian names, but the horizon is too clear.  This is the defect of a virtue, and the opposite defect could be urged against the Tragedy at the Unicorn, where suspects were in a majority among the characters.  In the second murder the use of a thread involved risks, which could have been avoided, of the thread adhering to the revolver.  The whole plan was so liable to miscarry at a number of points that a criminal who could bide his time was being rash not to use other methods.  The second murder was not up to the standard of finished workmanship of the first; but then, the first was brilliant.  The tale has some good descriptive narratives and goes with a swing.  It gives the impression that it was constructed round the account of some actual trial which led Mr. Rhode to construct a subtler and more exhaustive hypothesis than that which contented the Crown.  However he came to it, he has used brains in writing it, and deserves the thanks and appreciation of those who have come to rely upon his name for tales which are good puzzles without ceasing to be good tales as well.

NY Times (3rd March 1929, 220w): While it is not so good as some of the other Dr. Priestley stories, The House on Tollard Ridge has some unusual and interesting features.