It is sometimes instructive to look again at some of the English writers of detective fiction from the first half of the twentieth century, in order to remind ourselves of just how the marriage of clever plots and good writing can produce satisfying books. In particular, there were a number of authors, famous in other spheres, writing under pseudonyms, who brought these qualities to their work. Examples include John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, a university professor who, as Michael Innes, created Inspector (later Sir) John Appleby; and the composer Robert Bruce Montgomery, who wrote as Edmund Crispin about the Oxford don Gervase Fen, who solved complex and fantastic crimes. One of the more illustrious of these writers was C Day Lewis, the university professor and poet who became poet laureate from 1968-1972. His private detective was Nigel Strangeways, an Oxford graduate who works closely with the police.
End of Chapter is set in a traditional book publisher, Wenham & Geraldine. Nigel Strangeways is called in to investigate the sabotage of a printers proof which has reinstated libellous material. Strangeways meets the partners, readers and other employees of the firm who could have done the deed, including one of their authors – an unpleasant woman – who eventually provides the corpse. The investigation turns up the usual possible motives of sex (sort of) and money, and the importance of past events, leading to the unmasking of the culprit and the resolution of the crimes.
The characterisation is fairly stereotyped (as this sort of book tends to do, it reeks of class snobbery), and if the plot machinery creaks a bit it still works. But it is the quality and precision of the language that shine through in a way that is not always apparent in more modern writing.
Details: Publisher (Mastercrime edition) J M Dent ISBN: 0-460-02408-6
Other books by Nicholas Blake:
Nigel Strangeways –
A Question of Proof , End of Chapter, Head of a Traveller, Malice in Wonderland, Minute for Murder, The Beast Must Die, The Dreadful Hollow, The Morning After Death, The Sad Variety, The Smiler with the Knife, The Whisper in the Gloom, The Widow’s Cruise, The Worm of Death, There’s Trouble Brewing, Thou Shell of Death
The Case of the Abominable Snowman, A Penknife in My Heart, A Tangled Web, The Deadly Joker, The Nicholas Blake Omnibus, The Private Wound