Coming Soon On The Blog – #IReadRhode

John RhodeI’m going to try something a little different this month on the blog. While there will be the usual miscellany of new releases – current plans are for the latest from Mark Billingham, Deryn Lake, Sharon Bolton and Paul Cornell, and my contribution to Past Offences’ Crimes Of The Century’s #1957book, probably Gladys Mitchell this time – other than that, I’m going to focus primarily on one author – namely Cecil Street aka John Rhode aka Miles Burton aka Cecil Waye aka F O O aka I O aka C J C Street.

One thing about John Rhode – probably the better known pseudonym – is that I was aware of him due to his collaboration with John Dickson Carr on Fatal Descent aka Drop To His Death, but once I’d read that – over ten years ago – I had trouble finding anything by the author. For whatever reason, this author of more than 140 novels mostly seem to have never been reprinted. It seems such an odd thing that an author was still being published – he released five books in 1960, four years before his death – while his back catalogue was presumably unavailable to the reading populace.

The other thing that fascinates me is that he is generally referred to as John Rhode when the Burton pseudonym was equally prolific and neither is his real name. Is it perchance that his best known work is the aforementioned collaboration? Is it that the Rhode novels tend to have (I think) impossible crimes in them? No idea, really.

There are a number of resources on Rhode out there, the principle one being one third of Curtis Evans’ Masters Of The Humdrum Mystery – there’s plenty on Curtis’s website as well. On top of that, there’s the gadetection page, which contains a review for the majority of the books (although some of the links have expired), as does Mike Grost’s page and The Locked Room Mystery’s page. There are also reviews at Beneath The Stains Of Time, At The Scene Of The Crime and Pretty Sinister Books. Obviously I can’t guarantee that those reviews are spoiler-free.

But I’ve only skimmed that content as I want to form my own opinions of the author, prompted by two things. First of all, the British Library are about to re-issue two Miles Burton novels, Death In The Tunnel and The Secret Of High Eldersham (in that order, despite the second introducing series sleuth Desmond Merrion) and secondly, I’ve managed to procure a few affordable copies of some other books from the author. The estate seem reluctant to release the rights for reprints for some reason – there are some US ebooks from St Swithins Press but they’re not obtainable over here. Those readers out there who are less concerned with copyright can find some titles on the Internet Archive. Still not sure how that works, legal-wise…

So, coming soon on the blog (this might take more than a month) – Death In The Tunnel, The Secret Of High Eldersham and Situation Vacant from Miles Burton, and Death In Harley Street, The Venner Crime, Nothing But The Truth, Death In Wellington Road from John Rhode – and possibly another one or two. I might even chuck in Fatal Descent as well.

But, dear reader, what’s your opinion on Rhode? If you’re a fellow blogger, can you squeeze in a Rhode review this month or next? If so, do leave a link to said review here or use the hashtag #IReadRhode. Thanks to Kate who suggested “Going For A Burton” as the title for this, but as the Burton books are generally harder to find that the Rhode ones, I thought I’d plump for the best thing that I can think of.

Oh, and there are two reviews on my blog as well.

So, stick around as I discover a new old author…

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24 comments

  1. Like you, I’ve read Fatal Descent, but that’s it for Rhode as far as I can remember. I don’t think that I’ve ever even seen any of the other books. So, I look forward to reading your discoveries about him. Is it too late to recommend “The Rhode Warrior”?

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  2. I’ve read about a dozen Rhodes and nealy as many Burtons. Their quality has varied, which I guess is to be expected from such a large output. Death In Harley Street and The Venner Crime were both very good. I enjoyed The Secret Of High Eldersham. Situation Vacant is on my TBR pile – looking forward to your reviews!

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    • Thanks – currently reading Harley Street and enjoying it so far. I’m curious though – Merrion so far seems utterly traitless, a complete cipher. Are there any books that delve into his character a bit more?

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      • Merrion so far seems utterly traitless, a complete cipher.

        That’s my impression also, although I’m basing that on the single MIles Burton book I’ve read. It’s odd because I’ve read quite a few of the John Rhode books and Dr Priestley is a wonderful character – colourful, irascible and slightly eccentric.

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    • I think I basically agree with your thoughts on it – sorry for not commenting on your blog more often, BTW, but blogspot can be a pain to sign into under a pseudonym. I’ll try harder…
      Good title, by the way, but a bit long for a hashtag. Might use it as the on-blog title though…

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    • Me too. So far, The Claverton Affair was interesting but, being as generous as possible, Early Morning Murder was a experiment that fails to entertain or intrigue. Let’s see how the rest pan out…

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  3. Anyone reading this post who lives in Chicago or Illinois can find thirteen of John Rhode’s books at the main branch of the CPL (Harold Washington Library). Unfortunately, they are all from his later period (1947-1959) which are not the best of his work.

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    • A number of the books I’ve got hold of are from that period… but not all of them. You can add Mystery at Greycombe Farm and The Motor Rally Mystery to the list – definitely need to run this for longer than a month.

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  4. I rate the John Rhode books very highly indeed. The Venner Crime has been mentioned by a few people and it’s excellent. I also love The Motor Rally Mystery (I’ve forgotten the alternative US title). One of the very few Rhode titles that is fairly easy to find is The Claverton Mystery (AKA The Claverton Affair) – for some reason that one actually got a paperback reprint which can be picked up fairly cheaply. Unfortunately while I enjoyed it it’s not the best of his Dr Priestley books by a long way.

    I’ve only read his work from the 1920s and 1930s. I have heard that his later stuff shows a bit of a falling off in quality. His 1920s/1930s stuff is terrific.

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  5. There’s definitely a falling off in many of the later books, especially in the 1950s; it’s a trend you see in other highly prolific GA authors as well, though probably sharper in Street, who wrote so many books. Street was reprinted in pb in Britain and Canada in the 1930s and 1940s. His books by the 1950s were most read by patrons of rental libraries. There was a devoted, though small, audience of purist puzzle mystery mavens who still read him.

    I like the byplay between Merrion and Arnold, but you’re never going to get much in the way of back story with him; the most you get of a personal side is when he’s holidaying with his wive Mavis, as he does increasingly in the later books and as Street did in real live with his wife Eileen.

    The Street estate, in contrast with Connington’s, simply hasn’t been, in my view, receptive to reprint offers. I gave the British Library the contact info for them and they were able to get the two Burton books reprinted, but if they continue at that rate it will take over thirty years to see them all in print again, and that’s just the Burtons! It’s too bad. I really would have liked to have been involved personally with reprinting Street.

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    • There’s definitely a falling off in many of the later books, especially in the 1950s; it’s a trend you see in other highly prolific GA authors as well

      It’s pretty common among writers in any genre.

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    • I must admit to being surprised at the choice of books as well. Not only are the pair chosen being printed out of order – not that Street is going to include significant character development but The Secret Of High Eldersham is the introduction to Merrion – but the Burton books seem to be significantly more obscure and less well-known than the Rhode books – but I supposed that’s the point of “Lost Classics” I suppose.

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      • I think they went with Burton because there’s a gentleman amateur sleuth with Merrion and more country settings. There’s an idea thats what most people want from their classic English mysteries.

        They police inspector in Eldersham leaves the series after the next book, to be replaced by Arnold. BL should have reprinted Eldersham, Three Crimes and Death of Mr. Gantley first had they cared about chronology. I have a notion they reprinted Tunnel because HRF Keating wrote about it, as well as Jacques Brazen. But I don’t really know, no one connected with the BL discussed the choices with me. I discuss Tunnel a good bit in Masters, but I don’t believe any of that is mentioned in the BL intro.

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    • Now of course I need to decide which order to read my acquistions in. I’m tempted to go chronologically – my mathematical brain – but I hate to read all the good ones first. I’ve 1933 (x2), 1934, 1946, 1947 and 1952 for Rhode and 1930, 1936 and 1946 for Burton, so luckily nothing too late… But then Early Morning Murder was 1945 and I didn’t enjoy that much at all. Is that a typical example of a Merrion book?

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      • Not an example of a good one! Street slacking there. There are some quite good Burtons from the 1940s though and after the early 1950s I think the Burtons tend to be better than the Streets.

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  6. […] As I’ve said, inspired by the BL reprints, I’m embarking on a Rhode-A-Thon (follow the hashtag #IReadRhode on twitter) with this as the first. I wonder how this ranks in the quality of Rhode’s books. I’m guessing it’s average – intricate plotting let down by a silly scheme and paper-thin characterisation. Which sounds like I’m having a go, but it’s still a good read that grips the attention throughout. I might come back to this one and say more when I’ve others to compare it to. In the meantime, however, this one is Well Worth A Look. […]

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