Friday, November 7, 2014

Foul Play at Ferris Court: The Hanging Captain (1932), by Henry Wade

the 1932 British hardcover edition 
"This is a detective story for connoisseurs, for those who value clear thinking  and good writing above mere ingenuity and easy thrills."--Times Literary Supplement review of The Hanging Captain

Having recently updated my writing on Henry Wade and G. D. H. and Margaret Cole for my forthcoming book on these authors, The Spectrum of English Murder, I had occasion to reevaluate some of their work, including Henry Wade's The Hanging Captain. I still think this novel is inferior to its three most immediate predecessors, The Duke of York's Steps (1929), The Dying Alderman (1930) and No Friendly Drop (1931), but nevertheless it stands as a fine example of the more cerebral Golden Age English murder.

The Hanging Captain marks the return of Wade's sardonic Inspector Lott, who appears in two Wade novels, this and The Dying Alderman. Lott actually is rather more likable in this one, and there is even a tantalizing suggestion  in the novel that he may find love among among the winsome chorines of Birmingham (I wish Wade had given us a third Lott novel so we would know just how this particular plot strand was resolved).

The hanging captain of the title is Captain Herbert Sterron of Ferris Court, "the Tudor home of twelve generations of Sterrons."  Sterron resided at Ferris Court with his wife, the ironically-named (the reader will see) Griselda.  When the captain is found hanging from a curtain rod in his study, it is first thought that he committed suicide, but an officious houseguest, Sir James Hamsted, shows that Sterron was actually murdered.

the 1981 paperback reissue
The most obvious suspects in the murder of the hanging captain are Sir Carle Venning, baronet and High Sheriff of the country, who seems to have been rather personally close to Griselda Sterron, and Herbert Sterron's brother, Gerald, a merchant late of Shanghai. Also frequently on the scene at Ferris Court is Father Luke Speyd, a fervent Anglo-Catholic minister and counselor to Griselda.

With such prominent people involved in the affair it is not long before Scotland Yard, in the person of Inspector Lott, is called in by the Chief Constable of the county; and, as in the earlier Dying Alderman, Lott soon is in competition with a local policeman, this time Superintendent Dawle, in a race to catch a killer. Dawle is no dim copper, however, so Lott has his work cut out for him!

Once again Henry Wade, one of the major Golden Age English crime writers, presents his readers with a sound problem and credible characters (both suspects and investigators). The Hanging Captain is recommended to all connoisseurs of classic English crime. It's intelligent stuff--plus there's a house plan!

See also John Rhode's The Hanging Woman (1931).


  1. Those covers are positively ghoulish Curt!

  2. It's a great book although I do agree that The Duke of York's Steps is even better.

    1. Yes, it's interesting that with this one he moved decisively in the direct of the "crime novel" with Mist on the Saltings.

  3. I'm going to have to get to this author soon, you've done a good job on your blog..

    1. I'll be interested in your comments, he is is rather out of the Golden Age rut, I think. Martin Edwards of course is a great fan as well, as was Jacques Barzun.