A Dying Fall – Henry Wade (1955)

There’s really nothing at all that interests me about horse races, nor am I that interested in horses.  Credit to Henry Wade then for writing an entire novel deeply entrenched in all things horse, yet somehow leaving me lapping up every page.  Now, I knew that Wade was a talented writer; his Heir Presumptive was a highlight read of 2020, and the murder scene in that story stands out as one of the most visceral experiences that I’ve read to date.  So perhaps it isn’t surprising that A Dying Fall hit the spot for me, horses and all.

A Dying Fall is a mystery in a strange way.  It’s kind of an inverted mystery, with police pursuing horse trainer Charles Rathlyn for the murder of his extremely wealthy wife, except that we don’t really know if he’s guilty.  In experiencing the story through his eyes we know that he had a conflictingly-compelling motive for killing her, but we don’t quite know if he took advantage of her occasional sleep walking and pushed her over a bannister.  The police force are split between whether it was all an accident or murder, and one detective in particular hounds Rathlyn relentlessly.

Which is kind of too bad, as I think most readers will like Rathlyn and somewhat empathize with him.  Yeah, there’s that piggish part about his wife getting a bit plump from over-indulgence in alcohol, his creepy-ish obsession with a “young girl” (until we learn way late in the book that she’s 29), but I don’t know, I kind of just enjoyed his story.  And that’s the weird thing about A Dying Fall: it’s somehow such an enjoyable story; the type where you get so sucked up in the world that you find yourself thinking “oh, I hope nothing bad happens” even though you’re damn well reading a murder mystery, and you know someone’s going to get it and someone’s going to pay.  I just got swept up in the country house, the rides through the woods, and yes, somehow the horses.  And perhaps that last part worked because this is a book that takes place in the world of horses, without smacking you over the head with that fact.  Yeah, I learned a bunch of stuff I didn’t know about hunting, training, breeding, etc, but it felt so organic.  And that’s cool with me, because I tend to hate mysteries that are “about a thing” such as theatre, the cinema industry, the art world, or what have you, where the author feels the need to drown you in the research that they did instead of telling you a story.

Anyway, as with any enjoyable story without a real hook, this one’s best experienced for yourself; no need for me to mention all of the subplots.  There’s no crazy set up or shocking denouement – which may be what we come into these GAD novels for – but I bet you’ll laugh out loud on the final page.  Kudos to Perennial Library for padding their 1981 edition with a few extra pages in the rear so that the story ended well before I thought it was going to.

8 thoughts on “A Dying Fall – Henry Wade (1955)”

  1. Sounds interesting – I need to get back to Wade soon and this sounds like it has some elements that might work for me. Thanks for the push!

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    1. Yeah, I need to read more Wade. He’s one of those authors like Freeman Wills Crofts where I thoroughly enjoy every page, and yet that lack of a hook unjustly leaves their books camping on my shelves. Some of Wade’s books go for quite a bit of money though, so may be tough to complete the library.

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      1. Yes, copies of his books can be expensive and some are unobtainable. I’ve read five of his books and enjoyed them all. I’d read more if I could get hold of them. A great writer.

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        1. I have The Hanging Captain, The Litmore Snatch, and Lonely Magdalen waiting in the wings. There are a few more Perennial Library titles that should be obtainable (although man, even they frequently run $40-100). I believe there are some Penguin editions of a few books, but I haven’t seen them on this side of the Atlantic. Beyond that, I can’t imagine I’ll ever get my hands on the rest unless they’re reprinted.

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          1. I couldn’t believe those prices you quoted so I just checked online and you’re right. It angers me beyond belief. That’s just absurd for books published in the 1980s. Absurd! I can find those Harper Perennials (by any author, not just Wade) in regular used bookstores here in Chicago for less than $7 each.

            If you’re not too bothered by purchasing dupes you ought to go over to eBay now and take up the best deal on Henry Wade books. There are four Wades offered for sale in one bunch for $24.95 and $5 shipping to a US address. That’s a little over seven bucks each. Definitely more sanely priced and I think affordable for anyone. The dupes would be Litmore Snatch and Heir Presumptive. You can always sell those at an insane mark up if you like. The others in the lot are Mist in the Saltmarsh and New Graves at Great Norne.

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            1. Yeah, if this was a more available author I wouldn’t look twice at those Perennial Library editions: they’re the definition of the bland form that books took following the sixties. The covers are so uninspired. I mean, take Heir Presumptive as an example. You have these fantastic dramatic scenes playing out on the coast of Scotland, and then you make a box of chocolates the cover? Think of what Dell would have done with that a few decades earlier.

              Nice tip on buying the four books and selling the duplicates. As obvious as that seems in retrospect the thought would have never crossed my mind.

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