Amy Myers is known for her short stories and historical novels featuring Victorian chef Auguste Didier and chimney sweep Tom Wasp. Her contemporary series features classic car detective Jack Colby, and she is currently working on a new 1920s mystery series featuring Nell Drury, chef at Kent’s Wychbourne Court.
It’s a pleasure to see Nicholas Blake’s classic detective stories available again. Vintage are currently reissuing sixteen of them. Nicholas Blake was the pseudonym of the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, and A Question of Proof was the first of his crime novels, published in 1935.
As a first novel it lacks the polish of his later work, but fully makes up for it with the zest with which it is written. It marks the first appearance of the zany Nigel Strangeways, who detects to great effect in fifteen of Blake’s twenty novels written between 1935 and 1968.
It is set in a private school for boys, Sudeley Hall, and has a cast of varied boys, schoolmasters and stuffy headmaster - who has of course a beautiful wife, Hero. Cecil Day-Lewis himself taught at a similar school to Sudeley Hall, and its board of governors apparently cast disapproving eyes at him for his portrayal of school life (and death) in A Question of Proof.
When on Sports Day, the universally disliked boy Wemyss is found strangled in a haystack, Strangeways is brought in to track down the murderer after suspicion falls on his friend Michael Evans, one of the teachers at the school. That was hardly surprising as Michael had been using the haystack for purposes of his own – canoodling with the headmaster’s beautiful wife. Nigel roots out the killer after solving the satisfying puzzle that the author provides.
Despite the odd purple passage (to modern taste) and occasional dated style, the writing is, as one would expect from such a poet, one of the novel’s highlights for the reader, and many thanks to Vintage for reprinting his novels for a new generation to enjoy.