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

   There are not many detective novels written during wartime, and World War II in particular, in which the war effort at home (England, in this case) is such an integral part of the story as it is in Dead of the Night.

   The first 60 pages are taken up with a detailed description of a night drill conducted by the local company of the Home Guard set up for the small fictitious town of Wealdhurst. In charge of the mock operation is Major Ledbury, who has his finger on everything, except for the “invading force,” who have orders to act totally by surprise and on their own. Even the women in the town have their jobs to do, manning water pumps and tending to the fallen.

   This is fascinating. If scenarios such as this were covered in my high school history classes, I wouldn’t have slept through them.

   At the close of the simulated invasion, it turns out that a much disliked Group Commander named Colonel Chalgrove has gone missing. The next 70 pages are spent in wondering where he may have gotten to, with suspicion falling largely on Major Ledbury, especially by the men under his command. Not so much so by Inspector Kilby, who has been put in charge of the case, although he does has to keep an open mind about the matter.

   The investigation that follows, as much as I hate to say it, is as dull as dirt, consisting mostly of conversations about reports that have come in to headquarters. It’s talk, talk and more talk, the same limited ground trampled over, over and over. If the reader can’t pinpoint the killer on his or her own 30 pages before the end of the book, he or she simply wasn’t paying attention. Or had snoozed off long before.

   Not every relic of the Golden Age is a gem. Not a keeper.