Nicholas Blake






Perennial Library/Harper & Row, 1977 Reissue
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Mystery, London 1957

Nigel Strangeways is a poet who also enjoys private detection. In END OF CHAPTER, he has been called in to find the person in the publishing firm of Wenham & Geraldine who sabotaged the final proofs of General Richard Thoresby’s memoirs. General Thoresby wants to tell the world about the fatal misgovernance of Major General Sir Charles Blair-Chatterley. Wenham & Geraldine would be just as liable for damages in a lawsuit as General Thoresby would, and they aren’t willing to be party to the attack. Contrary instructions are given to the publishers to leave the libelous passages in, and the book is printed with them. Just as Nigel Strangeways thinks he has found out who did it, that someone is murdered.

That someone had irritated a great many people and looked likely to give away some dangerous secrets. Nigel finds himself investigating the pasts of the people around him, including the partners who hired him. Arthur Geraldine has the smooth manner of the successful salesman. Anything could be going on under that soothing, urbane surface. Liz Wenham, the financial brains, is a breath of fresh air. We readers hope sincerely that Liz isn’t involved in some way. The third partner, Basil Ryle, is a clever young man anxious to leave his mark on the writing world. When his publishing company couldn’t make ends meet, Wenham & Geraldine found his list worth merging into their own. Basil brought with him on contract an author, Miss Millicent Miles, now writing her memoirs on the premises. Miss Miles is a malicious nuisance, especially to Stephen Protheroe, a burnt-out poet who has become such an honored employee of Wenham & Geraldine that his rudeness is part of his legend. In addition we must consider Miss Miles’ ne’er do well son Cyprian Gleed, whose character has been formed by the inconsiderate, pretentious woman who gave her son such a name; and Miriam Sanders, a smart young lady telling some stupid lies.

The term “cozy” might dismay the author of this series of accomplished mysteries, but it fits END OF CHAPTER very well in the atmosphere it conjures up. In spite of the bumps and hazards, one gets the feeling that Wenham & Geraldine would be a very good place to settle in and work for a lifetime. This small company of talented people expects eccentricity in its members and tolerates them fondly. Nigel Strangeways fits right in, as would his partner, sculptor Claire Massinger, if he ever introduced her to them. The casual, self-assured Clare grants Nigel an all-embracing understanding, and to the suspects he likes so much she applies her intuitive insight. Between them, Clare and Nigel make up one of the more delightful pairs from this era of British detective literature.

One of the most notable characteristics of the Nigel Strangeways mysteries is the sympathetic understanding they show of what brought the killer to do murder. The goal is always punishment of the crime, but so often there is a poignance, a sense of “What would you do in his place?” There is no vindictiveness in Nigel. There is a feel of emotional health and breadth of empathy that makes these books nourishing to the soul, especially the later Blake books.

“Nicholas Blake” was the mystery pen name of Cecil Day-Lewis, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom until his death. Sound familiar? That’s right. Father of Oscar winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Talent runs in families, yes, but it is rare that one such great talent engenders another. This was a case of two outstanding minds clashing and bringing forth sparks of inspiration.

END OF CHAPTER is currently out of print, but today I found 66 copies available through Amazon. The Nicholas Blake mysteries should be kept in print as classics. END OF CHAPTER would be a good place for you to begin your devouring of the collection.

May 2005 Review


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