Nicholas Blake (1904–1972)

8752Nicholas Blake was born Cecil Day-Lewis in Ballintubbert, Ireland, on April 27, 1904, the only son of the Reverend F. C. Day-Lewis and Kathleen Blake Squires. After the death of his mother in 1908, his aunt helped to rear him, following his father, an Irish Protestant clergyman, as he moved from one London parish to another. Blake attended Sherborne School and Wadham College, Oxford University, where he received a master’s degree.

He taught at various schools from 1927 until 1935, running into trouble with school administrators because of his leftist political views. He married Constance Mary King, the daughter of one of his former teachers, in 1928, and the couple had two sons. Desperately in need of more money, Blake, who had read many mysteries himself, wrote and published his first one, A Question of Proof, in 1935. He was a member of the Communist Party in Great Britain from 1935 to 1938, and though he never resigned from it, his political views changed, particularly after the Spanish Civil War. He worked for the Ministry of Information during World War II and was made a commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1950.

Blake divorced his first wife in 1951 and the same year married Jill Balcon, with whom he had a son and a daughter. His professional reputation remained high: He held the position of professor of poetry at Oxford University (1951-1956) and director of the publishing firm Chatto and Windus (1954-1972). He was the Charles Eliot Norton professor of poetry at Harvard University (1964-1965), and finally, poet laureate of England, from 1968 until his death in 1972. (Source: “Cecil Day Lewis – Biography” Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition Ed. Carl Rollyson., Inc. 2008 23 Mar, 2020

His debut novel, A Question of Proof (1935) was set in a private school, and introduced Strangeways, a wealthy private investigator. Thou Shell of Death (1936), a superb impossible-crime novel, swiftly followed. By early 1939, the Marxist detective –fiction fan John Strachey was citing Blake as one of the outstanding writers of detective fiction, in an article which seems the first to have proclaimed that the Thirties were a ‘Golden Age’ for the genre. After the Second World War, Blake continued to write crime novels of quality, and Strangeways adapted to changing times in books such as End of Chapter (1957), set in a publishing house. In 1968, the year when he was appointed Poet Laureate, he produced his final crime novel. Strangeways does not appear in The Private Wound, set in the author’s native Ireland and containing thinly disguised autobiographical elements, but some judges regard it as the best of the Nicholas Blake books. (Source: Martin Edwards, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books)

Nigel Strangeways Series: A Question of Proof (1935); Thou Shell of Death (1936) aka Shell of Death; There’s Trouble Brewing (1937); The Beast Must Die (1938); The Smiler with the Knife (1939); Malice in Wonderland (1940) aka The Summer Camp Mystery / The Malice with Murder; The Case of the Abominable Snowman (1941) aka The Corpse in the Snowman; Minute for Murder (1947); Head of a Traveler (1949); The Dreadful Hollow (1953); The Whisper in the Gloom (1954) aka Catch and Kill; End of Chapter (1957); The Widow’s Cruise (1959); The Worm of Death (1961); The Sad Variety (1964); and The Morning After Death (1966).

Novels: A Tangled Web (1956) aka Death and Daisy Bland; A Penknife in My Heart (1958); The Deadly Joker (1963); and The Private Wound (1968).


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Collins The Crime Club (UK), 1938)

A 1001 Midnights Review: Nicholas Blake – The Beast Must Die

Nicholas Blake, The Beast Must Die at Vintage Pop Fictions

Forgotten Book – The Beats Must Die at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’

The book’s opening paragraph is as memorable as anything in the Francis Iles canon: ?I am going to kill a man. I don’t know his name, I don’t know where he lives, I have no idea what he looks like. But I am going to find him and kill him.’ (Source: Martin Edwards, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books).

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