The Lake House (John Rhode)

  • By John Rhode
  • First published: UK: Geoffrey Bles, 1946; US: Dodd, Mead, 1946, as The Secret of the Lake House

Rating: 3 out of 5.

One of Rhode’s better ones from the 1940s. Although the murderer is guessable from Chapter 3, there is plenty of interest in the working-out of a diabolical plan, and a great deal of variety in pace and action (including a good courtroom scene). Characterisation decidedly above average for Rhode, although the murderer is perhaps over-characterised, since his character traits reveal his plot—still, one can understand why he behaves as he does, rather than waking up one morning with the desire to kill Uncle Rufus with a complicated device involving a bar of soap, three guinea-pigs and a coil of electric wire.

Blurb (UK)

Many years ago (in 1929 to be precise) the Times Literary Supplement reviewing “The House on Tollard Ridge” said: “Of mystery novelists John Rhode stands in the front rank.  He deserves the thanks and appreciation of those who have come to rely upon his name.”

Since those pleasing words John Rhode has written many other mystery novels, his reputation has steadily grown, and he is now generally acclaimed as a master of ingenious crimes.  “An outstanding specialist in ingenious murder mechanisms,” writes The Sunday Times, and the Times Literary Supplement adds: “His ingenuity is as delicate to handle as high explosives.”

Well, this Rhodian ingenuity is very prettily exemplified in the mystery of the Lake House and the strange death of Mr. George Potterne of Melcote Priory…

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 13th January 1946): Dr. Priestley and his white-headed boys are at it again, cosy, fussy, consequential and full of interesting ratiocination, solving The Lake House, by John Rhode. This is a small town killing which leads to a big trial and an outstanding piece of reconstruction, including histrionics, by the Doc and his amanuensis Harold Merefield. Need I, must I, say more?

The Sphere (Vernon Fane, 9th February 1946): A small red volume with the title of Logic – Deductive and Inductive, is one of the clearest memories of my early childhood, since it was rather unsuitably kept on the nursery bookshelf. It had very little effect on me then or now, but I sometimes wonder whether it has not been the favourite reading of such a writer of detective stories as Mr. John Rhode, whose new book, The Lake House, is a study in the art of reasoning which might appeal to the most polemically-minded.

Mr. Rhode’s inclination is seldom towards the dripping dagger or the scream in the night, but to the orderly processes of thought by which the law may pursue the lawless.

Weekly Book Review (Will Cuppy, 10th February 1946, 230w)

Western Mail (12th February 1946): Keeps You Guessing

On the simple, grey-old framework of the discovery of the body of an unfriendly, rich man in what he called his Lake House and the mysterious disappearance of his butler, John Rhode has fashioned with his usual ingenuity a yarn that ranks among his best. He is aided and abetted by recently-promoted Superintendent Jimmy Waghorn, of the C.1.D., and a few other characters, chief among whom is chatterbox Naseby. the dead man’s agent and suspect. In this, as in nearly all his previous mystery tales, the author reveals a rare mastery in straightforward narrative. He with-holds no secret, and keeps you hanging hard to his coat-tail lest you miss a single point in developments, though there are comparatively few thrills or exceptional incidents on the way. He also keeps you guessing all the time, unconsciously as it were. Rhode at the top of his form.

Spectator (V.C. Clinton Baddeley, 15th February 1946): No serious reader of a mystery story peeps ahead, but he might catch sight for a second of the last page – by accident or while looking to see how many pages there are. If he does so with The Lake House in his hand, let him shut his eyes tight, for if he glimpses the last paragraph he will not need to read the book. As a matter of mystery technique, it was not very wise of Mr. Rhode to hide his secrets in so dangerous a position, for, although without any merit of humour or characterisation, The Lake House is certainly a good mystery. If the reader is successfully deceived it will be partly because the crime is a little too ingenious for probability – but also because the story has been made to unfold itself in a natural way and is so little impeded by red herrings that for a little there seems an insufficiency of possible criminals.

New Yorker (16th February 1946, 90w): Pleasant in a slow, rather archaic fashion.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 24th February 1946, 130w): Dr. Priestley has seldom done a neater job.

San Francisco Chronicle (Anthony Boucher, 24th February 1946): Meticulous Scotland Yard work by Jimmy Waghorn (now a Superintendent) all but hangs the wrong man; Dr. Priestley emerges to the rescue. Slightly shop-worn plot-gambit but thoroughly solid piece of work.

Illustrated London News (K. John, 2nd March 1946): John Rhode specialises, as all know, in the technique of crime. In The Lake House, Jimmy Waghorn, now superintendent, wrestles with a problem of the old stamp: a corpse shot through the back, suicide impossible, a vanished wife, an absconding butler, a change of will – and an apparently watertight solution, till Dr. Priestley comes and upsets it. Dr. Priestley grows no less crushing with the years, and may be glad that no one has murdered him. In this case I thought the penultimate solution the most convincing.

Sat R of Lit (2nd March 1946, 40w)

Book Week (Elizabeth Bullock, 14th April 1946, 90w)

Booklist (15th April 1946)

A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): One of the last cases in which Dr. Priestley gets about and does things. Here he demonstrates at first hand how the peculiar circumstances in which a wealthy eccentric is found dead in his alchemical hobby shop tie in with the possibilities of suicide, murder, or the one made to look like the other. The writing and characterisation are above par for Rhode, and he adds a bonus of dry wit and satire. The ideas are original, artfully combined, and carefully, but not too carefully, explained.