Saturday, May 12, 2012

Nicholas Blake, The Beast Must Die

Nicholas Blake, The Beast Must Die Nicholas Blake was actually a pen-name used by the poet Cecil Day Lewis when writing detective stories. 

As you might expect from someone who moved in the same circles as Auden and Isherwood, his crime novels of the 1930s display a somewhat sceptical attitude towards the forces of law and order, and at times a surprising degree of sympathy for the criminal.  This is a more complex moral universe than you normally encounter in English detective stories of this era. 

As you’d also expect, his books are packed with literary allusions.  They’re also highly entertaining, with a likeable amateur sleuth (Nigel Strangeways), intricate plotting, characters with at least some depth to them, and written in an easy and amusing style.  The Beast Must Die, published in 1938, opens with a lengthy extract from the diary of a writer of detective fiction, describing a real-life murder he intends to commit.  His son was killed in a hit-and-run accident, and since the police have been unable to bring the killer to justice he determines to take matters into his own hands. 

Needless to say, things turn out to be much more complicated than they appear at first.  Highly recommended.

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