JOHN RHODE – Three Cousins Die

Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1959. Dodd Mead & Co., US, hardcover, 1960. [The cover shown is of the latter.]

JOHN RHODE Three Cousins Die

   The first of the three seems to have killed himself; the second is the victim of a far too hasty knife attack; the last dies in a puzzling sort of automobile accident. Dr. Priestley asks a few pertinent questions of Superintendent Jimmy Waghorn, and although he’s never on the scene himself, he’s easily able to establish the common factor that connects all three events.

   This is surely no-nonsense investigation at its finest. Rhode was indubitably an author at least a quarter century behind his time. Little or no effort is spent on the kinds of trivial matters that commonly pass for characterization or secondary motivation. Slow-moving; and, yes, I knew who did it as soon as Dr. Priestley did.    [C minus ]

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 2, Mar-Apr 1979.

   When I wrote this review, it looks as though I was channeling mystery critic Julian Symon and his opinion of the “humdrum” school of detective fiction. From Bloody Murder (1974) he describes what he means:

    “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 John Street …”

   The Major Street he was referring to was also John Rhode, author of the Dr. Priestley books, as well as Miles Burton, who related to the world cases solved by Inspector Arnold and Desmond Merrion.

   Three Cousins Die came toward the end of Street’s long writing career, which extended from 1925 to 1961. Only three more Rhode novels came later, and three more Burton’s.

   For whatever reasons – supply? demand? – this particular book is also hard to find. There are seven copies on ABE at the moment, ranging in suggested price (and condition) from $30 to $65.

   I couldn’t tell you whether my opinion today would match the one stated above or not. I seem to remember railing away at some private eye around the same time for having too much characterization; that is, too many details of his home life. What can I tell you? I was much younger then.