Friday, 17 May 2013

Forgotten Book - A Question of Proof

A Question of Proof, by Nicholas Blake, is my chosen Forgotten Book for today. It marked the crime writing debut of the poet Cecil Day Lewis, and the arrival on the scene of his regular sleuth, Nigel Strangeways. It's one of a number of mysteries written in the Thirties with a public school setting - R.C Woodthorpe and Glen Trevor (alias James Hilton) were among those who used a similar background. Blake had taught in such a school, and his inside knowledge of the milieu contributes to the quality of the story.

The first part of the book is seen largely from the viewpoint of a young teacher, perhaps based on Day Lewis himsel, who is an anti-establishment figure - so much so that he is conducting an affair with the head teacher's wife, who rejoices in the name of Hero Vale. When a rather unpleasant pupil is found dead in the hay castle where the couple have recently been enjoying each other's company, no prizes for guessing where the finger of suspicion is likely to point.

The police pursue the obvious lines of enquiry, and Strangeways comes into the story with a view to representing the school's interests. The author endows him with one or two mannerisms which aren't terribly memorable, but he is nevertheless an engaging character, and he detects thoughtfully and well. A further murder is committed - this time at a cricket match - and the truth about the crime is conpicuously "modern" for the time when the story was written.

Day Lewis, and his biographers, have seemed a bit dismissive about his crime novels, but they have lasted reasonably well, and it's worth noting that his career in the genre continued for rather longer than that of many of his contemporaries who started out in the Golden Age. This was partly because he was a genuinely talented writer, and partly because he was prepared to avoid formula, and try out fresh ideas. Not all of them were equally successful, but as this lively debut shows he had quite a flair for the genre.

1 comment:

Rich said...

I enjoyed this. Read recent Vantage reissue and was extremely disappointed with the amount of typos in the text. Burn became bum, for example. Very frustrating to read.