My choice for today's Forgotten Book dates back to 1948. The Telephone Call by John Rhode is a sound example of crime fiction inspired by a real-life case. The case in question is one of the most celebrated true crime mysteries of the 20th century, the Wallace case. And it's a murder mystery that has long intrigued me, partly because it has so many fascinating aspects and partly because it occurred in Liverpool, a city I know well.
Dorothy L Sayers and Raymond Chandler were amongst those who are fascinated by the Wallace story and Sayers wrote about it at some length. There was a widespread (although by no means universal) consensus that Wallace did not murder his wife, although many years passed before diligent investigative journalism produced a plausible theory about an alternative culprit, whom it was impossible to bring to justice.
John Rhode apparently used elements from the Wallace story in an earlier novel, Vegetable Duck, which I have not yet read. The Telephone Call does, however, follow the real-life scenario quite closely. Rhode acknowledges in a note at the outset that "this story is based on a celebrated murder trial" although he hastens to insist that "his treatment of it and the solution he propound are entirely imaginary".
Most of the detective work in the novel is undertaken by Superintendent Jimmy Waghorn of Scotland Yard, but he finds it necessary to consult more than once Rhode's most famous amateur sleuth, Dr Lancelot Priestley. This is a soundly constructed novel with an interesting solution, although since that solution depends upon the character of the victim, and Rhode fails adequately to characterise her for most of the book, it falls short of excellence. In fact, in this respect it is a good example of the shortcomings of detective novels which focus heavily upon alibis rather than strong characterisation of the key players in the drama. Yet despite its failings, The Telephone Call is a good illustration of true crime rendered as fiction, and I certainly found it well worth reading.