The Robthorne Mystery (John Rhode)

  • By John Rhode
  • First published: UK: Collins, 1934; US: Dodd Mead, 1934

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This one was spoiled for me by Catalogue of Crime.  I remember thinking it was clever, but didn’t have enough story for a full-length novel.

Blurb (UK)

Rhode - The Robthorne Mystery.JPG
Cover by Margery Allingham‘s husband, Youngman Carter.  Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Dr. Priestley, well-known crime investigator, is called in to solve the mysterious death of Mr. Robthorne, who has been found shot in the greenhouse of his country residence.  A chain of damning evidence that Dr. Priestley pieces so successfully together forms one of the finest examples of crime detection that Mr. John Rhode has yet produced.

Blurb (US)

Maurice Robthorne, gentleman of leisure, had recently taken an old house in a London suburb, where, soon after, he was visited by his brother, Warwick.  A week later, while the village lads were setting off firecrackers to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, tragedy struck the Robthorne household.

And curiously enough, at the same time, Inspector Hanslet of Scotland Yard was setting an ingenious trap in London that was calculated to wind up a long-drawn-out criminal chase.  At first, the connection is clear, but certain surprising developments change the picture and lead to the entrance upon the scene of the eminent criminologist, Dr. Priestley.

Warning: A certain striking solution will probably occur to the reader fairly early in the book, but let him beware of unwarrantable deductions.

The Robthorne Mystery becomes one of the most intricate and neatest puzzles John Rhode has ever presented.  Dominated by the urbane and stimulating personality of Dr. Priestley, it moves swiftly and surely to a conclusion that will take the reader completely by surprise.

Contemporary reviews

Sunday Times (Dorothy L. Sayers, 7th January 1934): Mr. John Rhode has followed The Claverton Mystery by The Robthorne Mystery.  I hope he will not make a practice of using this kind of title.  Nothing is more difficult to remember than a series of personal or geographical names with nothing distinctive about them.

One always embarks on a John Rhode book with a great feeling of security.  One knows that there will be a sound plot, a well-knit process of reasoning, and a solidly satisfying solution with no loose ends or careless errors of fact.  I was a little alarmed at first when it was made clear that the new story was to be a variation on the twin brother theme.  Was it possible that in this worked-out mine there was a vein still unexplored?  Yes, it was really so—a nugget of good gold yet remained for Mr. Rhode to find.  The reader will probably guess confidently and guess wrong, and have the fun of kicking himself all round the field.

The twin brother, by the way, is honourably produced in all his twinnishness in chapter II, and not treacherously sprung upon us to force a surprise ending.  The similarity of the brothers is the hypothesis from which we set out, so that everything is scrupulously fair.

Times Literary Supplement (1st February 1934): Once again Superintendent Hanslet and Dr. Priestley are called upon to solve a problem of great complexity and difficulty.  It concerns twin brothers, Maurice and Warwick Robthorne, who of late have been living blameless lives in the village of Milton Kirdmore; then Warwick apparently shoots himself with a shotgun in the conservatory, and the long trail begins.  All the circumstances of the tragedy suggest suicide.  Warwick, it is discovered, has been engaged in the drug traffic and knew that Scotland Yard was close on his heels; also the nature of the wound seems to rule out all possibility of murder.  Superintendent Hanslet, however, is not satisfied, for certain very curious clues lead him to suspect that the dead body was actually that of Maurice, murdered by Warwick in order that the latter might assume his respectable brother’s identity.  Unfortunately for this theory Dr. Priestley is able to prove that the survivor really is Maurice Robthorne, and at first not even he can conceive of any reason why Maurice should have committed murder.  Nevertheless it is a case of murder, with a motive and a method that will satisfy the most exacting critic of straightforward detective fiction.

Books (Will Cuppy, 29th July 1934, 550w): Besides the excellent sleuthing, The Robthorne Mystery provides its readers with country atmosphere as fragrant as old-fashioned cider, a gallery of delightful villagers, dirty work in London and a more than generous number of leads (none of them false).  And Mr. Rhode’s extreme cleverness in every department having to do with riddling is nothing less than a liberal education.  You mustn’t miss it.

The Saturday Review (4 August 1934): Eccentric brother of equally queer newcomer to English hamlet is killed.  Another new arrival ditto.  Dr. Priestly pontificates.  Ancient twin brother device is here given novel and deceptive twist that will fool the best av yez.  Grade A.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 5th August 1934, 270w): No one who has ever read a Dr. Priestley story will be surprised to learn that this is a genuinely baffling crime puzzle of the first quality.