Nicholas Blake, aka Cecil Day-Lewis, the Poet Laureate from 1968-72 wrote twenty two detective novels. The most renowned seems Head of a Traveller, although The Beast Must Die is also very popular. Obviously I haven’t read or reviewed these – but I have reviewed The Case of the Abominable Snowman (excellent) and The Worm of Death (good). I figured it was time to grab another off the shelf, and so we come to End of Chapter.
A publishing house calls in Nigel Strangeways, seemingly a professional detective here, although I recall him being more of a nosey amateur in other books, because there has been some shenanigans going on. An autobiography needed a couple of libellous passages removed before being sent to the printers, but a sneaky so-and-so took the opportunity to remove the editing instructions at the last minute. No-one notices until the book is published and the damage is done. After a bit of snooping, the next thing that Nigel discovers is the dead body of Millicent Miles, an authoress whose autobiography the company was also publishing. Did this have anything to do with the sabotaged manuscript? Or does it relate to a secret contained in her book? And what was the murderer typing in the office after he had cut Millicent’s throat as the blood oozed around his/her feet?
As with the previous books that I have read, Blake clearly defines his list of suspects – about five or six of them and refuses to let Nigel consider anyone else for the crime. That’s fair enough – there’s some business with the fact that it had to be someone in the building at the right time, so the limiting isn’t unnatural and it allows Blake to develop each of the characters properly. Most of the development works well, but, as with The Worm of Death, he is less than convincing with the less reputable members of society, here embodied by the wonderfully named Cyprian Gleed, the victim’s layabout son. Indeed, an action attributed to Gleed by the end of the book is so bizarre and unnecessary that you’ll find yourself double-checking that it actually happened. No reason is given for it, certainly, except that he’s a bad-un.
Strangeways is rather an entertaining chap to lead you through the story, and I especially enjoyed his banter with his partner Clare – not many partners would willingly pretend to be a dead body for you in order to trap a murderer. He is a little callous at the end of the book when he rather nastily breaks down the murderer with the sort of methods that you need if you haven’t got any evidence. Unnecessary but designed to give a sort-of happy ending. A case of the plot taking over the characters, but that’s only a small niggle.
Back to the main story, and, in a similar vein to The Worm of Death, the mystery gains a certain inevitability as the characters progress and I doubt anyone would be surprised by the revelation of the murderer. The clues are there and there’s a nice double-bluff on one part of the plot, but unlike The Case of the Abominable Snowman, Blake fails to find a particularly clever twist with the plot. It is simply a good, well-written murder mystery. And what’s wrong with that?