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Blake, Nicholas - Thou Shell of Death
Paperback: 320 pages (May 2012) Publisher: Vintage ISBN: 0099565366

Nigel Strangeways is a gentleman detective. He is asked by his uncle, the Assistant Commissioner of Police to agree to a request from Fergus O'Brien, a well known World War One hero to spend Christmas in his country home. Fergus has received several letters threatening his murder before the Christmas season has finished and needs someone to keep a watchful eye on his guests who include some people that Fergus believes may be the letter writer.

Nigel travels down with his aunt and uncle on whose estate, Fergus lives. He arrives to find his host in good spirits waiting for the rest of the party who are a mixed bunch and include an adventurer, Georgina Cavendish to whom Nigel finds himself very quickly enamoured, and her brother Edward, a financier. Making up the rest of the house party are Knott-Sloman, a disreputable nightclub owner, a beautiful woman called Lucilla, a former lover of more than one of the male guests, and an old friend of Nigel's, Phillip Starling, a university "fellow".

Early on Boxing Day morning, Fergus is found dead in his workroom. He appears to have shot himself, there being only one trail of footprints across the snow from the house, but as evidence starts to stack up, it becomes obvious that not all is how is first seems. Then Bellamy, Fergus's devoted servant is brutally attacked and it seems as if Fergus was murdered as predicted in the letters.

This is a traditional English country murder and hugely entertaining, a puzzle to solve alongside the detective.The period detail appears spot on, not surprising since it was originally written in1936. What is surprising though is that it reads refreshingly modern. Some mannerisms of language now seem old-fashioned but, I think, add to the character and atmosphere of the setting and book.

Nicholas Blake was the pseudonym of Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis which helps to explain the literary illusions in the story. I haven't read any of Nicholas Blake's books before but will look out for more in the future. Unlike some reprints from this era of writing, this has stood the test of time well and Nigel Strangeways is a gentleman detective whose antics I will enjoy reading about in the future.

Susan White, England
July 2012

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 8/07/2012 10:04