My latest choice for a Forgotten Book is No Friendly Drop, by Henry Wade, which dates back to 1931. When I read the first chapter, I feared the book might be a big disappointment. There was quite a bit of seemingly aimless chit-chat between the landed gentry – Lord and Lady Grayle, of a decaying great house called Tassart, and their son and daughter-in-law. But before long, my interest quickened and it became clear that Wade had planted important clues in that first chapter.
Lord Grayle dies, in mysterious circumstances, of an odd combination of poisons. The local police call in Scotland Yard, and Wade’s regular cop, Inspector John Poole, is sent to investigate. Poole is nicely characterised – young, intelligent if sometimes fallible, keen and likeable, a much more rounded figure than, say, Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French. Even the minor characters are nicely done – I rather enjoyed the idea of an aged solicitor ‘who had never used a telephone in his life’. And I liked Wade’s wry reflection, when Poole thinks that a woman of 55 might not be driven by passion, that ‘Poole did not yet know everything about life’!
In fact, the story is cunningly designed, and the book held my interest even though it is quite lengthy. Wade (real name Sir Henry Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher, 6th baronet) was a wealthy man, and you get the feeling that he really did know his way around grand country houses – more so than colleagues who simply used them as a convenient setting for a murder mystery. His instincts were conservative – punitive taxation gets a critical mention here, as in other of his books – but He is very good at dealing with the politics of relations between different branches of the police, and Poole delves much deeper into motive than, say, French. In fact, a puzzle about motive is at the heart of the book. Poole’s humanity is such that, at the end, ‘though it was impossible not to feel horror at the callous cruelty that had destroyed two human lives, it was also difficult not to feel some sympathetic understanding of the provocation that had led to it.’
All in all, a good book. Not a match for the best of Christie, but readable and intelligent. I am definitely a member of Henry Wade’s fan club.