A Dying Fall by Henry Wade

A Dying FallCaptain Charles Rathlyn, a racehorse trainer, has everything staked on his prize nag Silver Eagle, but disaster strikes in the final furlong and he loses everything. Looking around for a buyer, he encounters Kate Wyngold, the owner of the winning horse, who promptly offers to buy Silver Eagle and give him a job as the trainer of her stables. For Kate is on the lookout for a second husband and Captain Rathlyn fits the bill.

Soon they are married but Charles, while happy, realises that he is not in love with his wife. It is a practical marriage of convenience in his eyes – he has no concept of being in love, until he falls for Anne Faery, a local girl. And then one night, Kate, apparently while sleepwalking, takes a fatal fall over the bannister to the floor below…

I came across the name Henry Wade quite recently. Sir Henry Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher, 6th Baronet, fought in both world wars and ended up as Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire. And, more importantly, he helped to found the Detection Club under his pseudonym Henry Wade. He wrote seven novels featuring Inspector Poole (John, not Richard, Death In Paradise fans) and thirteen others, along with a couple of short story collections. It’s not much of a surprise that I’d never heard of him, as he’s been out of print for a long time and there’s not much in the way of reprints. One of the non-series – Lonely Magdalen – was recently reprinted as part of the Arcturus Crime Classic series but that’s about it. I found his name on the recommended reading list of the Bodies From The Library conference, where Martin Edwards recommended Mist On The Saltings. I wonder if Martin realised how obscure that particular title is – in the second hand bit of Amazon, the cheapest (of only three copies) is over £100. So I won’t be reviewing that one…

But I found this one – originally written in 1955, it’s Wade’s penultimate book. This is a reprint from 1981 which I found on Abebooks for a pittance, but that was a bit of luck – there are only 20 copies of the title available and even this reprint has got a copy available for £165! Could it be worth that?

Probably not – it’s only a book. It’s a real page-turner though. Wade has a nice turn of phrase and does a good job bringing the central characters to life – Charles, Kate, Kate’s secretary, Superintendent Hant – although a couple of others are a little on the dull side. Plot-wise, it keeps the reader guessing at to what, if anything, Charles is responsible for, and if not Charles, then who? It’s an interesting structure as the options for Kate’s death seem to be murder by Charles, suicide or accident, rather than being constructed as a traditional whodunit, and Superintendent Hant has to justify why he continues to investigate (as there is no real evidence for muder). Worth pointing out that Wade does a good job of giving us Charles’ thoughts on the events without giving a hint to his guilt or innocence, without it coming across as artificial.

As the book progresses, it does get a little bogged down with talking about the entries in an accounts book. It’s no railway timetable mystery, but if there’s an actual clue there, it escaped me. And at the end of the day, the finale is a bit disappointing. There are a couple of bits that I expect the author considered twists but they fell a bit flat for different reasons that I won’t go into. Of course, this is an area where people will disagree – Anthony Boucher and Time Magazine (quoted on the back) were both impressed with the “most effective whipsnap ending”.

So, I’m a little torn. The plot kept my attention for the majority of the time, twisting and turning as it went on, and Wade’s writing is very entertaining. And it gets bonus points because, as far as I can tell, this is the only review of the book anywhere on the Internet. (Oddly Bev at My Reader’s Block has rated it on Goodreads but no review on her site that I can find). It’s Recommended, although I wouldn’t break the bank to get a copy. And I’ll certainly keep my eye out for other Wade novels.

If you want to know more about Wade, then Curtis Evans has written The Spectrum Of Murder which covers Wade and GDH and Margaret Cole. Also, here’s a post from Martin Edwards concerning Wade.

NB Don’t expect anything too saucy from that cover btw. The artist has taken some liberties with the book’s description of Kate…

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14 comments

  1. Great cover, accurate or no! One wishes Wade were a bit easier to get hold of. I have the recent reprint and a book sf short stories, I think but that is it, both unread. There are some very enthusiastic supporters of his out there though …

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  2. The early Wades are superb. HEIR PRESUMPTIVE is particularly good. THE DUKE OF YORK’S STEPS and THE HANGING CAPTAIN are great as well. Wade was truly one of the greats.

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  3. Henry Wade is one of my favourite Golden Age writers. Top-ranked books for me are: The Dying Alderman,
    New Graves At Great Norne,
    The High Sheriff,
    Heir Presumptive,
    The Duke of York’s Steps,
    The Missing Partners,
    No Friendly Drop,
    Constable Guard Thyself!,

    I have found eBay a good source for his books…

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  4. I’ve had the good fortune to find several Perennial reprints of Wade–New Graves at Great Norne, Mist on the Saltings, The Hanging Captain, The Litmore Snatch (yet to be read), and this one. I do have reviews of the first two on my blog (check under “Reviews by Author” along the top). I first read The Hanging Captain and A Dying Fall back before I was blogging and took any real notes on what I read…so, no, I don’t have reviews for those. But I do enjoy Wade a great deal.

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  5. I’m always pleased to see Wade gathering more fans! His ambition as a writer was laudable. A Dying Fall is one I quite enjoyed, but it’s not in my view one of his best. Here’s where I sheepishly confess that my copy of Mist on the Saltings only cost a couple of quid. It was done as a US paperback in the 80s. One wonders where all the copies have gone…

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    • Ditto for this copy of A Deadly Fall. The 80s US reprints of some John Rhode books seem to have similarly disappeared for the most part. I wonder – maybe they were released, didn’t sell due to the readership being unfamiliar with the authors and then they were pulped for the most part? Just a thought.

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