Mystery At Olympia by John Rhode

London, Olympia, the mid-1930s (or is it? – see below) and the Motor Show has arrived. All of the excitement seems to be about the Comet Motor Car Company, who have a revolution in car design to demonstrate. The Lovell Transmission is going to push car design forwards by decades – no gear box, no clutch, no radiator (?) and no self-starter. Such a shame that Nahum Pershore has the misfortune to collapse and die during a presentation of the technology.

Dr Oldland, a friend of Dr Priestley’s is first on the scene, but no cause of death can be ascertained. Natural causes are presumed, but when a maid from Pershore’s household collapses from arsenic poisoning having helped herself from Pershore’s personal olive jar, it seems that Pershore may well have been murdered. But why was no arsenic found in his system?

Hanslet did not think fit to enlighten Mrs Markle as to her employer’s possible motives for destroying his trousers.

Book 21 in the Dr Priestley series, and Superintendent Hanslet is jumping to conclusions again. Having introduced Jimmy Waghorn in the previous book, Hendon’s Last Case, we’re back with Hanslet taking the lead. After an in-depth description of the new car transmission, we move away from the car business and concentrate on the Pershore household. With plenty of suspects to go round, and motives a-plenty, this is a good solid entry into the Rhode canon.

It’s a shame that one of the central ideas is recycled from an earlier book (which did it better) and that the method of murder a) doesn’t really make sense that it doesn’t leave a mark on the body and b) seems to have been a lucky discovery by both murderer and sleuths alike – but, to be fair, it is sort of clued early on. And, also to be fair, the recycled idea isn’t exactly the same – although using familiarity with a previous book’s structure as a method of misdirection really is a bit of a cheat.

But while not being one of the very best, it’s certainly a strong entry into the Priestley canon – it’s reasonably clued and the murderer isn’t that obvious, unlike in some Rhode books. And there are, as ever, some lovely signs of the time it was written. Dr Oldland, an esteemed medical man, using the word “tummy” instead of “stomach”, but it contains possibly my favourite ever idea that would never work today.

Pershore had been shot at some point in the past – and when Hanslet is told of an explosive noise heard on a recent Saturday, he correctly considers it proof that it was the shot in questions because that Saturday had been the sixth of November, not the fifth. Because nobody sets off fireworks apart from on Guy Fawkes’s Night, apparently.

And on a pedantic point of view, despite this being released in 1935, Saturday 6th November places it either in 1926 or two years later in 1937. Which is a bit odd, in either case, as the date of the shooting is a really minor event.

But how can I read this, I hear you cry? Well, it is one of the dodgy ebooks that I’ve mentioned before, under its US title of Murder At The Motor Show, which, if you’ve been following my Rhode posts, means that it’s free on the Internet Archive. But, more excitingly, it’s going to form one of the first four John Rhode re-releases from the Collins Crime Club, along with Death At Breakfast, Invisible Weapons and The Paddington Mystery, Priestley’s first outing. And there may well be more following these. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, why not give this one a try when it comes out? It’s definitely Recommended.

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8 comments

  1. Another one I praised in Masters.

    People should like Invisible Weapons, it’s his most notable locked room mystery, but The Paddington Mystery is not that good, imo, I suppose they are doing that one as a first.

    Like

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