Dr. Priestley

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Dr. Lancelot Priestley is a fictional investigator born in July 1869[1] in a series of books by John Rhode

After 1924 Dr. Priestley took over from Dr. Thorndyke as the leading fictional forensic investigator in Britain, and featured in 72 novels written over 40 years, solving many ingenious and misleading murders. Dr Priestley's involvement is usually at the request of the police but only if the case piques his scientific curiosity; having little, or no, interest in criminal justice. "Hanslet had brought many problems which confronted him in the course of his duties to Dr. Priestley's notice, usually with results highly satisfactory to himself. But in nearly every case Dr. Priestly's interest in the problem ceased when he had solved it to his own satisfaction. The fate of the criminal was a matter of complete unconcern to him. He treated detection much as he would have treated a game of chess. The pieces in the game had no more than a passing interest to him. Not that he was unsympathetic by nature, as many people had good cause to know. But, in the problems which Hanslet set before him, he purposely took a detached and impersonal attitude. Only in this way, as he more than once remarked, was it possible to maintain an impartial judgement"[2]

Dr Priestley had previously held the chair of Applied Mathematics at a leading Midlands University until he abandoned his chair and retired to the house in Westbourne Terrace which he had inherited from his father, but is described as an independent researcher who delights in scientific controversy. Described in The Ellerby Case, Dr Priestley's book "Fact and Fallacy" "..contained in every one of its two hundred odd pages a direct and trenchant attack upon those whom the author was apt to allude to as "The Orthodox Scientific School"[3] and "So the reviews poured in by every post: denunciatory, indignant, sometimes distinctly abusive. And Dr Priestley would sit and gloat over them, as a primitive warrior might gloat over the blood of his adversaries"[4]

In the early books Dr. Priestly provides assistance mainly to his friend Chief Inspector Hanslet. In later books Dr. Priestley becomes an armchair detective and the bulk of the legwork is done by Superintendent Jimmy Waghorn of Scotland Yard and Priestley's secretary and companion, Harold Merefield. Harold Merefield, whom Dr Priestley had cleared of a murder charge in the first book The Paddington Mystery, is engaged to Dr. Priestly's daughter April. Superintendent Hanslet (now retired) appears in several later works as a dinner guest of Dr. Priestly passing on his professional wisdom to Waghorn.


  1. ^ Rhode, John (1927). The Ellerby Case. Geoffrey Bles. p. 206. 
  2. ^ Rhode, John (1986). The Claverton Affair. Harper&Row. pp. 52–53. ISBN 0-06-080808-X. 
  3. ^ Rhode, John (1927). The Ellerby Case. Geoffrey Bles. p. 7. 
  4. ^ Rhode, John (1927). The Ellerby Case. Geoffrey Bles. p. 8. 
  • T. J. Binyon (1989). Murder will out. Oxford University Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-19-219223-X. 
  • J. Kenneth Van Dover (1994). You know my method: the science of the detective. Popular Press. pp. 155–157. ISBN 0879726407. 
  • Chris Steinbrunner; Otto Penzler, eds. (1976). Encyclopedia of mystery and detection. McGraw-Hill. p. 320. ISBN 0070611211.