The Case of the Abominable Snowman by Nicholas Blake

A new author for this post – Nicholas Blake, aka the poet Cecil Day Lewis. He wrote twenty mystery novels, sixteen featuring his sleuth Nigel Strangeways, the nephew of an Assistant Commisioner of Scotland Yard. It’s from 1941, so good luck finding a copy! It’s also published as The Corpse In The Snowman.

In case you’re wondering, there aren’t any Yeti in this story. The Abominable Snowman in the title is a snowman (woman?) of Queen Victoria, which, when melting at the end of Chapter One, reveals that for some reason, there’s someone inside the snowman. And they are somewhat dead.

The narrative then leaps backwards in time a month or so, to Nigel being asked by an acquaintance to visit a house to investigate some strange events – primarily the odd behaviour of a cat. Pretty soon there’s a naked dead body swinging from the rafters and the game’s afoot.

This is one of those books that I find myself in two minds about when reading. It’s very well written but basically, I end up thinking that this will be a good book, provided the ending lives up to it. Given that the household consists of about six suspects and no-one who could be considered not under suspicion – there are serving staff, but they’re invisible and not worth bothering about apparently – there’s always the suspicion as you read on that it’s not going to be that interesting a solution.

You’d be wrong in this case. It’s very clever indeed and I completely missed it, even though it made perfect sense. A large part of the detection in the story is piecing together possible motives and then dismissing them as being either too slight or not making sense at all. There’s little in the way of tangible clues, but I think the solution is extremely logical and made a lot of sense, so in that way, I would say this is definitely a fair-play mystery.

The characters are very well drawn, with the exception being Strangeways himself who seems an anonymous sort of person, but that doesn’t detract from the plot, which, despite being set at the outbreak of the Second World War, involves some quite seedy themes, such as drug abuse and hints at darker abuses as well. This isn’t the same style as Christie or Carr at all. It falls down slightly on the suggestion that drug-dealers (one in particular) wouldn’t be able to stay in the same house as young children without trying to get them addicted to marijuana, which puts me slightly in mind of the Child-Catcher, but to be fair, the character in question doesn’t do that – it’s just that most of the rest of the cast think that the person in question will. Also, the sensationalist in me was a little disappointed that the melting snowman is only revisited in the denouement of the story.

Anyway, to sum up, this is an excellent mystery with a lovely solution that even a crusty old mystery lover like me missed by a mile. There are some reasonably priced editions on Abebooks at the moment, so I’d highly recommend it.

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11 comments

  1. I recently bought THE BEAST MUST DIE as it was always amongs my favourite of the Blake novels featuring Stangeways (along with THOU SHELL OF DEATH) but hadn’t actually read it in well over 20 years and sudenly couldn’t find a copy anywhere. If you haven’t read that one I would heartily recommend it.

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    • I’ve got The Private Wound on the way from a nice person on eBay, and The Beast Must Die is high up on my wish list – the only other one I’ve read is Head of a Traveller, which I read ages ago and have completely forgotten about – must re-read that, come to think of it. Thanks for the tip!

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    • I’ve read The Moving Toyshop and Holy Disorders, although the second didn’t leave much of a mark on me. I may have read Buried for Pleasure – it’s on my shelf, but that means nothing. I gather The Case of the Gilded Fly is one of the best, so I’ll look out for that one.

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