(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

The Verdict of You All, Henry Wade’s first novel, and The Missing Partners (1928), his second, have been compared to novels written by Freeman Wills Crofts. Crofts, who is notable for having created one of literature’s least colorful detectives, the plodding Inspector French, has been called “the master of timetables and alibis” because of his frequent use of railway timetables—provided as frontispieces in his novels—and seemingly unbreakable alibis that could be broken by clues hidden in the timetables. Wade’s emulation of Crofts is most evident in his second novel, The Missing Partners, but both this novel and The Verdict of You All involve railways and clues in timetables.

Although comparisons between Wade and Crofts are inevitable, there are discernible differences, even in Wade’s earliest novels. For one thing, Wade’s novels have an authentic ring that is absent from the novels written by Crofts. Unlike Crofts, who knew little about police procedure, Wade could call on his own experiences as high sheriff and justice of the peace for Buckinghamshire when describing police procedure. This expertise gives an authenticity to his accounts of police work that sets him apart, even in his earliest novels. Another thing that sets Wade apart not only from Crofts but also from other writers of detective novels is the manner in which he uses irony in his criticism of the British legal system. Both The Verdict of You All, with its trial scene that ends in a questionable verdict, and The Missing Partners, in which justice nearly miscarries, raise questions about the entire legal system.

The Duke of York’s Steps

Although Wade’s subsequent works reveal his continued indebtedess to Crofts (as well as to other writers in the classic tradition), Wade began to find his own voice in his third novel, The Duke of York’s Steps. Considered by many to be Wade’s best, this novel introduces readers to Inspector John Poole, who would become Wade’s most frequently used character.

The Hanging Captain

Wade followed The Duke of York’s Steps with The Dying Alderman (1930) and No Friendly Drop (1931). The Hanging Captain (1932) is the most important novel of this period, not only because it marks the end of what some have called Wade’s apprentice period but also because it marks the full flowering of his sense of irony. In The Hanging Captain Wade is able to give clear expression to the ironic criticism of the legal system that was latent in his earliest novels. Such criticism became a hallmark of Wade’s writing, and it anticipated and influenced the work of writers such as Richard Hull, Cyril Hare, Henry Cecil, Raymond Postgate, Michael Underwood, and Roderic Jeffries.

The Hanging Captain deals with the problem of whether a certain captain has died by his own hand or whether he has been murdered. Once it has been determined that the captain has, in fact, been murdered, Superintendent Dawle, a thorough police officer, suggests to his chief constable, Major Threngood, that the high sheriff should be questioned as a suspect. Like many of the police officials in Wade’s novels, Threngood is chief constable purely by virtue of his military rank. Scandalized by Dawle’s suggestion, and fearing the uproar that would ensue if it became known that the high sheriff was a suspect, Threngood forbids the questioning. Superintendent Dawle defers to the constable but makes it clear that, in the interest of justice, the sheriff should be questioned. Wade concludes the conversation between Threngood and Dawle with an ironic comment that suggests trenchant questions regarding his country’s legal system:The significant note in the Superintendent’s voice brought home to Threngood the responsibility of his position. For the first time since his appointment he realized that his office was something more than an interesting, well-paid job. It might carry with it the difference between life and death, justice and injustice; it was a terrible responsibility.

Wade’s censure of certain aspects of the British practice of law and justice is also implicit...

(The entire section is 1736 words.)