William F. Deeck

JOHN RHODE – Dead of the Night. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1942. First published by Collins, UK, hardcover, 1942, as Night Exercise. Popular Library #99, paperback, no date [1946].

   This is the first novel by Rhode that I have read, aside from his collaboration with Carter Dickson, that does not feature Dr. Priestley. Though I find Priestley’s cases generally interesting, Priestley himself I regard as more than a bit of a bore. The characters in this novel appeal, however.

   Dead of the Night has something of the flavor of Christiana Brand’s Green for Danger. Though it’s not as good as her book, how many novels are? Whereas hers was about the activities in a hospital undergoing air raids during World War II, this deals with training and preparations for the potential invasion of England by Germany.

   The Home Guard of Wealdhurst is taking part in a night drill along with the Civil Defense Services. Colonel Chalgrove, the Group Commander and a man heartily detested by most who know him, shows up unexpectedly to observe the drill. The Colonel then vanishes during the exercise.

   Many explanations are given for the Colonel’s disappearing act. All of them turn out to be unsatisfactory.

   Suspicion begins to point to Major Ledbury, commander of Wealdhurst’s Home Guard, as the man who murdered Chalgrove, though there is no body. There is also, to my mind, little reason to suspect him, other than a mild threat to do grievous bodily harm to the Colonel because of the Colonel’s officiousness, a threat also uttered or thought by others. The detective, an otherwise estimable chap, blunders badly here, and Ledbury has to find out what happened to save himself.

   Rhode provides what seems to be a realistic picture of wartime England as well as a better-than-average mystery.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 6, November-December 1987.