Vegetable Duck (John Rhode)

By John Rhode

First published: UK, Collins, 1944; US, Dodd Mead, 1944, as Too Many Suspects

One of the very best Rhodes. Waghorn is in fine shape as, helped by Dr. Priestley from his armchair, he tracks down the man who disposed of two unwanted relatives using only a vegetable marrow, a splendidly surreal idea that has its … roots … in Freeman’s “Rex v. Burnaby.” The crime is ingeniously planned, the plot is complex, and the detection engrossing, with more humour and characterisation than the author usually allowed himself.

Blurb (UK)

Of all murders, those perpetrated by the cowardly but cunning hand of the poisoner are perhaps the most baffling, and consequently have provided some of the greatest triumphs of crime detection.  The mystery of the flat in Battersea in which the body of Mrs. Fransham was discovered proves no exception.  Vegetable Duck is certainly one of the most ingenious stories in which Dr. Priestley has figured, and Mr. Rhode is to be congratulated on a very capable and cleverly worked-out detective story.

Blurb (US)

All signs pointed to Charles Fransham as the murderer of his wife.  Only someone close to the family could have known her habits or his own fondness for stuffed vegetable marrow – which became the instrument of death.  No wonder Inspector Jimmy Waghorn was not too puzzled as to who the murderer was, though he did toss aside a clue.  To him the puzzle was how to pin the crime on the criminal.

But to Dr. Priestley it didn’t seem quite so simple.  His cryptic observation as to the danger of walking on the slippery ice of conjecture turned Inspector Waghorn’s thoughts to an entirely new channel and the totally unexpected denouement of one of the most ingenious of John Rhode’s always ingenious mysteries.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 4th November 1944):

Fair-minded authors who hold that the labourer is worthy of his hire must sometimes feel inclined, in fiction, let a murderer get away with murder.  The crime in Vegetable Duck is the result of what school reports call industry and application.  Scotland Yard needs a little luck as well as skill to follow the trail of the fatal marrow and lay the blame of its deadly properties at the right door.  If Inspector Waghorn’s efforts are crowned with success deservedly, it is also true that the murderer’s perseverance has been frustrated—according to the detached point of view—undeservedly.  It is a good story, even though Mr. Rhode ought to admit that the conscientiously plodding manner can be overdone.

New Repub (E.H., 19th January 1945, 60w):

A neat and ingenious job of pure detection.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 25th March 1945, 100w):

All in all, this is the best Dr. Priestley story in several years.

New Yorker (31st March 1945, 90w):

Nice and conservative.