My Book Notes: The Robthorne Mystery, 1934 (Dr Priestley #18) by John Rhode


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Red Kestrel Books, 2019. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 923 KB. Print Length: 287 Pages. ASIN: B082BKFW6M. ISBN: 9781839740763. First published in the UK by Collins Crime Club, 1934 and in the US by Dodd, Mead & Co, 1934.

51hYcPROniL._SY346_Book Description: The Robthorne Mystery, first published in 1934, is part of the series of mysteries featuring private detective Dr Priestley. Author John Rhode, a pen name of Cecil Street (1884-1964), was a prolific writer of mostly detective novels, publishing more than 140 books between 1924 and 1961.
When one of the Robthorne twins commits suicide, there is a question over which one it is and whether it was, in fact, suicide or murder. From the dustjacket: 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 estate. 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.

My Take: In this instalment, Dr Priestley and Superintendent Hanslet have to come to grips with one of the more complex and difficult cases they ever have had. The Robthorne twins, Maurice and Warwick, are lately leading a flawless live in the village of Milton Kirdmore, when, one day, Warwick is found dead in the greenhouse. How has he met his death? All seems to indicate that he committed suicide, but is there any possibility that he had been murdered? Won’t it be possible that the dead man would be Maurice rather Warwick? The story becomes more confused when it is discovered that Scotland Yard was about to detain Warwick, charged with drug trafficking, which doesn’t seem to make any sense. Finally, another murder takes place that doesn’t seem to be connected with nothing of the above.

If I’m not mistaken this has been my first encounter with Cecil John Street writing as John Rhode, even though I’ve read Murder at Monk’s Barn, written as Cecil Waye and The Secret of High Eldersham, written as Miles Burton. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Regretfully, there are few John Rhode’s books available, particularly among those recommended by Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp, see below. But I look forward to reading the ones I have in a not too distant future. Stay tuned. By the way, I did not say I very much enjoyed reading The Robthorne Mystery, and I strongly recommend it.

The Robthorne Mystery has been reviewed, among others, by Steve Barge at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Nick Fuller at The Grandest Game in the World, Martin Edwards at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’.

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jacket LLC. Collins The Crime Club (UK), 1934)

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(Source: facsimile Dust Jacket, LLC. Dodd, Mead & Company (USA), 1934)

About The Author: Capt. Cecil John Charles Street, MC, OBE, (1884 – 1964), also known as CJC Street and John Street, began his military career as an artillery officer in the British army. During the course of World War I, he became a propagandist for MI7, in which role he held the rank of temp Major. After the armistice, he alternated between Dublin and London during the Irish War of Independence as an Information Officer for Dublin Castle. Street went on to become a prolific writer of detective novels when, in 1924, he published a thriller under the name of John Rhode and, by the end of the decade, he had already established himself as a prime candidate for founder-membership of the Detection Club. Only after his death did it emerge that Miles Burton was also a pen-name for Cecil John Street. And his flair for remaining a man of mystery was underlined when, as late as 2003, it was revealed by the Golden Age expert and researcher Tony Medawar that in the early Thirties Street had also written four obscure mysteries under the name Cecil Waye featuring ‘London’s most famous private detective’, Christopher Perrin.

Between 1924 and 1961 Street published a total of 144 novels, seventy-seven as John Rhode, sixty-three as Miles Burton and four as Cecil Waye. Under the name of John Rhode he produced a long series of novels featuring the forensic scientist Dr Priestley (72 books) and, as Miles Burton, he penned  another long series featuring the investigator Desmond Merrion (61 books). The Dr Priestley novels were among the first after Sherlock Holmes to feature scientific detection of crime, such as analysing the mud on a suspect’s shoes. Desmond Merrion is an amateur detective who works with Scotland Yard’s Inspector Arnold. Under the name of Cecil Waye, Street produced four novels: Murder at Monk’s Barn (1931), The Figure of Eight (1931), The End of the Chase (1932) and The Prime Minister’s Pencil (1933).

Critic and author Julian Symons places this author as a prominent member of the “Humdrum” school of detective fiction. “Most of them came late to writing fiction, and few had much talent for it. They had some skill in constructing puzzles, nothing more, and ironically they fulfilled much better than S. S. Van Dine his dictum that the detective story properly belonged in the category of riddles or crossword puzzles. Most of the Humdrums were British, and among the best known of them were Major Cecil Street, who used the name of John Rhode, ….” Symons’ opinion has not however prevented the Rhode and Burton books becoming much sought after by collectors, and many of the early ones can command high prices. Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor in their A Catalogue of Crime offer a different perspective to Symons, praising several of the Rhode books in particular, though they only review a small proportion of the more than 140 novels written by Street.

Curt Evans has written the only detailed account of Street’s life and works: “I wrote my new book, Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920–1961 (published by McFarland Press) in part to give a long overdue reappraisal of these purportedly “humdrum” detection writers as accomplished literary artists. Not only did they produce a goodly number of fine fair play puzzles, but their clever tales have more intrinsic interest as social documents and even sometimes as literary novels than they have been credited with having.” (Source: Wikipedia and others)

The Best of John Rhode (Source: Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp): The Davidson Case aka Murder at Bratton Grange, 1929 (Dr Priestley #6); The House on Tollard Ridge, 1929 (Dr Priestley #7); The Claverton Mystery aka The Claverton Affair, 1933 (Dr Priestley #14); The Venner Crime, 1933 (Dr Priestley #16); Poison for One, 1934 (Dr Pristley #17); The Robthorne Mystery, 1934 (Dr Priestley #18); The Corpse in the Car, 1935 (Dr Priestley #19); Shot at Dawn, 1934 (Dr Priestley #22); Death on the Board aka Death Sits on the Board, 1937 (Dr Priestley #26); The Bloody Tower aka The Tower of Evil, 1938 (Dr Priestley #29); They Watched by Night aka Signal For Death, 1941 (Dr Priestley #35); Vegetable Duck aka Too Many Suspects, 1944 (Dr Priestley #40); Death in Harley Street, 1946 (Dr Priestley #43).

The Best of Miles Burton (Source: Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp): The Secret of High Eldersham aka The Mystery of High Eldersham, 1930 (Desmond Merrion, #1); Where Is Barbara Prentice? 1936 (Desmond Merrion #12); The Platinum Cat, 1938 (Desmond Merrion #18); Murder MD aka Who Killed the Doctor? 1943 (Desmond Merrion #28); The Three-Corpse Trick, 1944 (Desmond Merrion #30); The Cat Jumps, 1946 (Desmond Merrion #33); Bones in the Brickfield, 1958 (Desmond Merrion #56).

Unfortunately most of these books are very difficult to find. For a detailed bibliography click on John Rhode page at Golden Age of Detection Wiki.

Further reading: Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart and the British Detective Novel, 1920-1961 (McFarland & Company Inc. 2012) by Curtis Evans.

Red Kestrel Books publicity page

John Street, aka John Rhode and Miles Burton, and the end of the Golden Age

John Rhode / Miles Burton A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection by Mike Grost

A Score of Fine Street Fare: The Best of John Rhode and Miles Burton

How To Read Cecil Street aka John Rhode aka Miles Burton

John Rhode – The Story So Far

Money For Old Rhode: The Price Of Collecting John Street

John Rhode at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel 

The Robthorne Mystery, de John Rhode

Descripción del libro: The Robthorne Mystery, publicado por primera vez en 1934, forma parte de la serie de misterios protagonizada por el detective privado Dr. Priestley. El autor John Rhode, uno de los seudónimos de Cecil Street (1884-1964), fue un prolífico escritor de novelas policiacas en su mayoría, y publicó más de 140 libros entre 1924 y 1961. Cuando uno de los gemelos Robthorne se suicida, la pregunta que surge es cuál de los dos es ysi fue, de hecho, un suicidio o un asesinato. De la contraportada: el Dr. Priestley, conocido investigador de crímenes, es llamado para resolver la misteriosa muerte del Sr. Robthorne, que ha sido encontrado muerto de disparos en el invernadero de su finca. Una cadena de pruebas condenatorias que el Dr. Priestley reúne con tanto éxito forma uno de los mejores ejemplos de detección de delitos que John Rhode ha producido hasta ahora.

Mi opinión: En esta entrega, el Dr. Priestley y el superintendente Hanslet deben enfrentarse a uno de los casos más complejos y difíciles que jamás hayan tenido. Los gemelos Robthorne, Maurice y Warwick, llevan últimamente una vida impecable en el pueblo de Milton Kirdmore, cuando, un día, Warwick es encontrado muerto en el invernadero. ¿Cómo se encontró con la muerte? Todo parece indicar que se suicidó, pero ¿hay alguna posibilidad de que hubiera sido asesinado? ¿No sería posible que el muerto fuera Maurice en lugar de Warwick? La historia se vuelve más confusa cuando se descubre que Scotland Yard estaba a punto de detener a Warwick, acusado de tráfico de drogas, lo que no parece tener ningún sentido. Finalmente, se produce otro asesinato que no parece estar relacionado con nada de lo anterior.

Si no me equivoco, este ha sido mi primer encuentro con Cecil John Street escribiendo como John Rhode, aunque he leído Murder at Monk’s Barn, escrito como Cecil Waye y The Secret of High Eldersham, escrito como Miles Burton. Estoy seguro de que no será el último. Lamentablemente, hay pocos libros de John Rhode disponibles, particularmente entre los recomendados por Curtis Evans en The Passing Tramp, ver más arriba. Pero espero leer los que tengo en un futuro no muy lejano. Manténganse al tanto. Por cierto, no dije que disfruté mucho leyendo The Robthorne Mystery, y lo recomiendo encarecidamente.

Acerca del autor: El capitán Cecil John Charles Street, MC, OBE, (1884 – 1964), también conocido como CJC Street y John Street, comenzó su carrera militar como oficial de artillería en el ejército británico. Durante el transcurso de la Primera Guerra Mundial, se convirtió en propagandista del MI7, en cuyo cargo ocupó el rango de comandante eventual. Después del armisticio, alternó entre Dublín y Londres durante la Guerra de Independencia de Irlanda como Oficial de Información del Castillo de Dublín. Street se convirtió en un prolífico escritor de novelas policíacas cuando, en 1924, publicó un thriller con el nombre de John Rhode y, a finales de la década, ya se había consolidado como firme candidato a miembro fundador del Detection Club. Solo después de su muerte se supo que Miles Burton también era un seudónimo de Cecil John Street. Y su talento por permanecer un hombre de misterio se puso de relieve cuando, en el 2003, el experto e investigador de la Edad de Oro Tony Medawar demostró que a principios de los años treinta también había escrito cuatro misterios oscuros bajo el nombre de Cecil Waye con ‘el detective privado más famoso de Londres’, Christopher Perrin.

Entre 1924 y 1961 Street publicó un total de 144 novelas, setenta y siete como John Rhode, sesenta y tres como Miles Burton y cuatro como Cecil Waye. Bajo el nombre de John Rhode creó una larga serie de novelas protagonizadas por el científico forense Dr. Priestley (72 libros) y, como Miles Burton, escribió otra larga serie protagonizada por el investigador Desmond Merrion (61 libros). Las novelas del Dr. Priestley estuvieron entre las primeras después de Sherlock Holmes en incorporar la investigación científica de los delitos, como el análisis del barro en los zapatos de un sospechoso. Desmond Merrion es un detective aficionado que trabaja con el inspector Arnold de Scotland Yard. Bajo el nombre de Cecil Waye, Street produjo cuatro novelas: Murder at Monk’s Barn (1931), The Figure of Eight (1931), The End of the Chase (1932) y The Prime Minister’s Pencil (1933).

El crítico y autor Julian Symons coloca a este autor como un miembro destacado de la escuela de ficción detectivesca “Hundrum”. “La mayoría de ellos llegó tarde a escribir novelas y pocos tenían mucho talento para ello. Tenían algo de habilidad para construir enigmas, nada más, e irónicamente cumplieron mucho mejor que S. S. Van Dine su máxima de que la historia de detectives pertenecía propiamente a la categoría de adivinanzas o crucigramas. La mayoría de los Humdrums eran británicos, y entre los más conocidos se encontraba Major Cecil Street, que usaba el nombre de John Rhode, ….” Sin embargo, la opinión de Symons no ha impedido que los libros de Rhode y Burton sean muy buscados por coleccionistas, y muchos de los primeros pueden alcanzar precios elevados. Jacques Barzun y Wendell Hertig Taylor en su A Catalog of Crime ofrecen una perspectiva diferente a Symons, elogiando varios de los libros de Rhode en particular, aunque solo reseñan una pequeña proporción de las más de 140 novelas escritas por Street.

Curt Evans ha escrito el único relato detallado de la vida y obra de Street: “Escribí mi nuevo libro, Masters of the” Humdrum “Mystery: Cecil John Charles Street, Freeman Wills Crofts, Alfred Walter Stewart y la novela policíaca británica, 1920-1961 (publicado por McFarland Press) en parte para dar un replanteamiento pendiente desde hace mucho tiempo de estos escritores policiacos aparentemente “rutinarios” como artistas literarios consumados. No solo produjeron un buen número de enigmas de juego limpio, sino que sus historias inteligentes tienen mas un interés intrínseco como documentos sociales e incluso a veces como novelas literarias de lo  que se les atribuye “. (Fuente: Wikipedia y otras)

4 thoughts on “My Book Notes: The Robthorne Mystery, 1934 (Dr Priestley #18) by John Rhode”

  1. Jose – thanks for the review. I just bought an affordable copy of this one and look forward to reading it.

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