Friday, 26 July 2013

Forgotten Book - The Beast Must Die

My Forgotten Book today is Nicholas Blake's The Beast Must Die, which dates from 1938. Most people think it is the best crime novel Blake, better known as the poet Cecil Day Lewis ever wrote, and though I haven't read a lot of his work, I must say that I'd be amazed if he had surpassed this one. It's a fine combination of character study and puzzle.

Blake is interested in exploring the consequences of revenge and a guilty conscience, but these large themes do not get in the way of a clever and satisfying puzzle. The structure is daring and unusual, but also well integrated into the plot. The first part of the book is narrated by crime writer Felix Lane, who announces that he is going to kill a man, though he doesn't know who he is or where he lives. His target is the driver of the car that killed his son in an accident. It's a dazzling start and this first section of the story is genuinely memorable.

Lane finds his man, but the viewpoint then shifts, and he seems to be outwitted by his quarry - who is then murdered. But who killed him? He was a nasty piece of work, so motives abound. Nigel Strangeways, private inquiry agent, tries to help Lane as the police focus on the writer as their prime suspect. The switch in the style of story is a bit startling, but pretty well handled, I felt.

The finale is slightly reminscent of that n Henry Wade's Mist on the Saltings, a book I much admire. But there is a good deal about Blake's novel that is original and impressive. It's definitely one of the most notable Golden Age mysteries, even though I've never totally warmed to Nigel. Blake really could write, and here he is on top form.


pattinase (abbott) said...

One of my favorites for sure.

Anonymous said...

Mist on the Saltings is one of the few books I have read that appear to me to be both first-rate mainstream novels as well as first-rate detective novels. There may be a blog column in that idea for you.

Ralph E. Vaughan said...

Also notable are "The Smiler Withe the Knife," though Strangeways plays only a minor role in it, and "The Case of the Abominable Snowman." The model for Strangeways was Auden.