A couple of comments on my recent review of The Robthorne Mystery by John Rhode prompted this post – namely how to read John Rhode affordably. I’ve already outlined how to obtain the works of Cecil Street aka John Rhode aka Miles Burton, but I thought I’d do a little statistical analysis of how much it would cost you. Brace yourself.
Let’s start with the Dr Priestley series, starting with The Paddington Mystery in 1925 and ending with The Vanishing Diary in 1961, spanning seventy other books in between. So how much would it cost you to buy them all?
Let’s assume that you want non-electronic copies but don’t need first editions. I went on Abebooks and found the cheapest price for each of the Rhode titles, including ones with the alternate US title, something that is essential if you want a copy of Death On Sunday – you’ll have to make do with The Elm Tree Murder instead. Obviously these prices vary depending on where you’re from – some of the postage (which I’ve included in the valuation) seems rather extortionate. And before anyone says it, this isn’t an exact science, as quality and edition affects price, but this is more about the simple existence of any copies. Anyway, the total amount you would need would be…
Wait for it
£5493. For 72 books. An average of £76.30 per book.
OK, this is a bit distorted by the cheapest (at time of writing) copy of Proceed With Caution and The Paddington Mystery being £821 and £654 respectively. Although you can be thankful that a “cheap” copy of Murder At Lilac Cottage has appeared, as last time I looked, the cheapest was £1600.
And I won’t mention that I managed to get my hands on an affordable copy of The Paddington Mystery the other day. That would be rude.
The cheapest title, by the way, was The Venner Crime at £9. Not read it yet, but there always seem to be a couple of relatively cheap copies of this one knocking around. No idea why this is the one that seemed to have a bigger print run, but I guess that’s why there are copies at this price. The next book, chronologically speaking, The Robthorne Mystery, seems pretty scarce at £153 and the preceding title, The Claverton Affair, has only three copies of the original print run available (although there have been two reprints). Does anyone have any insight into the availability of The Venner Crime?
The next cheapest was The Domestic Agency, a late (so probably less impressive) title, but don’t bother looking for that one now – sorry. [UPDATE: Since writing that last comment, I’ve had an email from the seller telling me that he can’t find the title on his shelves, so probably sold it. Bum.]
Other titles at the affordable end of the spectrum are The Claverton Affair and Death In Harley Street, both of which got paperback reprints in the mid-eighties; Vegetable Duck, which, as Too Many Suspects, got reprinted in a collection of three titles in the US that seems to be fairly available; and The House On Tollard Ridge, one of the two titles to get a Green Penguin printing (although The Murders In Praed Street, the other one, isn’t cheap).
As far as I can see, the earlier books – pre-war certainly, but possibly stopping before then – got multiple reprints, which is why they sometimes turn up in affordable forms as third or fourth editions, but I think this stopped after a while. Some titles, based on my collection, including Shot At Dawn, Poison For One and In Face Of The Verdict – all from 1934-6 – had Collins Crime Club paperback reprints. The latter one crossed my path a few times over the past year, but I’ve only seen the first two once, so I’m guessing this wasn’t a massive print run. By the by, my copy of The Fourth Bomb, from 1942, is a similar edition, but from Australia.
So there are more copies out there for some titles than for others. Based on my experience from the past year or so, the first tranche of books, up to about 1936, are attainable with patience. From about 1937 to 1942, there’s barely a hint of the existence of the titles. The next couple of years books are more available, but thereafter, most of the copies that I own are the US reprints. I’m guessing that in the UK, the books weren’t reprinted.
Anyway, over to Miles Burton and here we get a rather different picture.
The average price of the books that you can get is £68.25 (bargain) with titles ranging from £5 and £6 (Secret of High Eldersham and Death In The Tunnel, thanks to the British Library) up to £384 for Murder In The Coal Hole aka Written In Dust. There are fewer cheaper titles at the lower end – Murder M D, Situation Vacant and Early Morning Murder seem to have had slightly larger print runs (which is a shame as Early Morning Murder is not Street at his best) but this average is not representative of the cost of a complete Burton library. No fewer than 25 titles have no entry on Abebooks at all. They range throughout the timespan of his catalogue but it seems that there just aren’t copies of these books about at all.
The early books are especially missing, which is odd as at this point, Burton “shared” a publisher with Rhode and certainly The Mystery/Secret of High Eldersham had multiple editions but it seems that the other titles from the era have vanished, unlike the Rhode titles. Anyone have any idea why?
So how can you read John Street’s work without breaking the bank? Well, I’m going to go back on something that I’ve ranted about in the past. I think you should use the Internet Archive. I’ll admit, I’ve been using it a bit recently myself. I have officially changed my mind – it does happen occasionally.
Yes, that’s no good for people who don’t like ebooks. Yes, the books in question shouldn’t be there as they are not out of copyright in most territories. Morally, though, I’d rather use this than pay the person who’s just nicked the books off of it and is selling them on Amazon. While the estate continues to not release his back catalogue, this is a way that you can experience some of Rhode’s work. And I really want more of you to give his work a try.
There are in total twenty one John Rhode and thirteen Miles Burton titles and there are some crackers there, notably The Robthorne Mystery, Death Sits On The Board and Death In The Hop Fields. I do like The Motor Rally Mystery as well, although Martin Edwards doesn’t, so opinion is divided on that one. And there are probably some other decent reads that I just haven’t read yet. Be warned, if you can’t read epub files – e.g. if you’re a Kindle user – you need to do a bit of jiggery-pokery to turn the epubs into mobi files, but it’s not that hard. There is plenty of conversion software out there – it isn’t that hard if you’re a bit computer literate. It didn’t take me too long to work it out, using a free program called Calibre. And if you’re not that computer literate, there’s probably a YouTube tutorial to follow.
|By Registered Post||Death Takes A Partner||Open Verdict|
|Death At Breakfast||Dr Goodwood’s Locum||Proceed With Caution|
|Death At The Inn||Dr Priestley’s Quest||The Domestic Agency|
|Death In The Hop Fields||In Face Of The Verdict||The Fatal Pool|
|Death In Wellington Road||Licenced For Murder||The Motor Rally Mystery|
|Death Of A Bridegroom||Murder At Derivale||The Robthorne Mystery|
|Death Of An Author||Mystery At Olympia||The Venner Crime|
|Death On The Board||Nothing But The Truth|
|Beware Your Neighbour||Death Takes the Living||Legacy Of Death|
|Death In A Duffle Coat||Devil’s Reckoning||Look Alive|
|Death Paints A Picture||Found Drowned||The Chinese Puzzle|
|Death Takes A Detour||Heir To Murder||The Milkchurn Murder|
I should point out that there are three others. Two can easily be obtained in legitimate copies and the third, The Hardway Diamonds Mystery, is a non-Merrion early Burton.
Just to make it clear, I still want official copies of all of these titles, be they antique books that are older than my parents or official re-releases, either ebook or otherwise, and if such things pass my way, then I will buy them. But I also want more people to read the books of John Rhode – the more people who see what they’re missing, then possibly the more persuasive people can be when they next ask the estate for the rights… So I leave it to you to decide whether to take advantage of this mild dodginess or not.
The alternative is patience. I haven’t paid more than £20 for a title, with the exception of one title, and often significantly less than that, and I’ve built up a significant collection of his work. There are various second hand book sites out there and things appear from time to time. You just have to hope that nobody else spots it…
And, of course, if anyone wants to offer me any Rhode or Burton titles – you can see which ones I own here – then do get in touch. Although bear in mind, I can’t stretch to £76.30… maybe a quarter of that, maximum…