Nicholas Blake was a pseudonym of the Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis under which he wrote a series of mystery novels featuring the private investigator Nigel Strangeways. It seems there are sixteen in the series, published between 1935 and 1966, which is good news for me as The Corpse in the Snowman is my first and I enjoyed it so much I will certainly be reading more of them!
This book is set in winter, as you will have guessed from the title – and yes, there is a snowman and yes, there’s a dead body hidden inside it. We know this from the very first chapter, but what we don’t know is whose body it is and how it has come to be in such a strange and macabre hiding place. To find out what is going on, we have to go back several weeks to the moment earlier in the winter when Nigel and Georgia Strangeways arrive at Easterham Manor in Essex, home of the Restorick family. They have been invited by Clarissa Cavendish, an elderly cousin of Georgia’s who lives on the estate and who has become convinced that there is something badly wrong at the Manor.
Clarissa’s fears are proved correct when, the day after the Strangeways’ arrival, the beautiful Elizabeth Restorick is found dead in her bedroom. It looks like a suicide, but Nigel is sure it is murder – and with a large party of guests gathered at Easterham for the festive season, there are plenty of suspects to choose from.
All the elements of a classic mystery novel are here – a country house cut off by snow; a locked room murder; an amateur detective working alongside the local police; family secrets, clues and red herrings – but a lot of attention is also given to themes such as drugs and drug addiction (with some interesting insights into the attitudes of the time). Published in 1941, the war is in the background but doesn’t really have any influence on the story; it’s set in those early days of the war when not much seemed to be happening and apart from a reference to blackout curtains and Nigel’s complaint at having to travel to Essex in wartime on an old woman’s whim, it is barely mentioned at all.
Although Nigel Strangeways is very ordinary as far as literary detectives go (there’s nothing to make him stand out amongst the Poirots, Campions and Wimseys of the genre), I did like him and will be happy to spend more time in his company. I was intrigued by mentions of his wife Georgia’s past career as an explorer; she doesn’t have a very big part to play in the novel, but I enjoyed what we do see of her. As for the other characters, there are a good variety of them within the Restorick household, ranging from an author who is in love with Elizabeth to a doctor whose speciality is ‘nervous disorders’ in women. I particularly loved Clarissa Cavendish, who is obsessed with the Georgian period and speaks of it as ‘in my day’ as if she had actually been alive at the time.
I am so pleased to have discovered Nicholas Blake and I’m sure I’ll be trying another of his books soon!
Note: This book has also been published as The Case of the Abominable Snowman.
Thanks to Ipso Books for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.