By John Rhode
First published: UK, Bles, 1950; US, Dodd Mead ,1950, as Double Identities
Rather disappointing late Rhode, because it’s supposedly a classic (Barzun, Binyon). It begins very well, rather like Mitchell’s Echoing Strangers: Norfolk setting, with boats, broads and bungalows; death by drowning of one of a pair of almost identical brothers; and a ruthless, strongly-drawn, unsympathetic woman teacher. It’s obvious from the start that SPOILER one of the brothers murdered and is impersonating the other, but there’s a twist—SPOILER he’s murdered halfway through. Although the book is crisp and readable throughout, without any fat, there’s little ingenuity. There’s a mildly successful attempt at misdirection, which had me fooled for a couple of pages. SPOILER The obvious suspect appears surprised by the news of the murder, and it seems that his plan to blackmail the survivor deprives him of a motive. The choice of murderer is an anti-climax—this is one of those late Rhodes where SPOILER the culprit is a small-time crook (a black marketeer), which spoils what had begun as a more intimate, well characterised story.
- Almost identical twins: The Robthorne Mystery
- Freeman: confusion of identities between two brothers; arsenical poisoning; medical evidence (glucosen tolerance test—the two graphs)
· Crofts: crooked small businessmen; black marketeers
Of John Rhode’s previous novel “Blackthorn House,” News Review said: “The plot is amazingly ingenious and the dénouement well-delayed and convincing. There is no heroine, but John Rhode’s readers need no such sop. They have enough to do trying to unravel this extraordinarily well-contrived puzzle.”
In “The Two Graphs” there is again no heroine, but again there is an extraordinarily well-contrived puzzle. For who were the mysterious Binfield brothers, and what were the secrets of their past lives?
Observer (Maurice Richardson, 22nd January 1950):
Opens with drowning of one of a pair of twin brothers. Survivor is poisoned. Dr. Priestley provides the solution. Tight-knit and cosily circumstantial, with several delicious valetudinarian scenes in a nursing home. Slight slackening of tension towards the finish but an excellent specimen of Rhode’s later period.
New Yorker (1st April 1950, 160w):
As English as roast mutton, and probably not much more stimulating.
Chicago Sun (7th April 1950, 150w):
Interesting for its plot which circles a pair of strikingly similar brothers. There are Rhode’s customary patches of repetition and the unassimilated wads of speculation at the fireside of that tiresome fraud, Dr. Priestley. If at this point one wonders why Rhode is, after all, enjoyable, it may be guessed that his enjoyment lies in an old fashioned compassion for narrative rather than in the building of fretwork around the consciousness of a dull lot of people with nerves.
NY Times (Anthony Boucher, 7th May 1950, 130w):
[Dr. Priestley] proceeds, for the first time in his honoured career, to solve a case by guesswork rather than deduction. Despite this departure from strict rules, this remains one of the more attractive recent Rhodes, with a fine involved plot of impersonation, intricate family hatreds, and some excellent detail-work by Superintendent Waghorn.