Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Minute for Murder: Nicholas Blake

Minute for Murder by Nicholas Blake is my submission for the Crimes of the Century meme for the year 1947. I selected this book because the story was related to World War II. You would think just about any book written between 1940 and 1947 would have references to the war and how the war affected people and their lives, but that isn't true. This one was perfect in that respect.

The Crimes of the Century meme is hosted by Rich at Past Offences. Every month he designates a year and bloggers contribute a post on a crime fiction book (or film, TV, comics, or short story) published in that year. There is still time to join in for March.

The book opens shortly after V-E Day. Nigel Strangeways works in the Visual Propaganda Division in the Ministry of Morale. A war-hero (and former member of the division) returns to visit the group, and the director's personal secretary is poisoned at the office gathering to celebrate his return. Nicholas Blake is the pseudonym of Cecil Day Lewis, who worked as a Publications Editor for the Ministry of Information during World War II, and used his experiences in writing this book.


In this excerpt from the book, Nigel ruminates on his former co-worker, the "improbable hero, Charles Kennington."
It was pleasant to reflect how many of his sort this war had thrown up. The long-haired, sensitive types, who had voted at the Oxford Union that under no circumstances would they die for king and country, and a few years later had gone up into the air with the professionals of the R.A.F. and helped win the Battle of Britain, fighting with the same skill and abandon as once they had speechified. The conscientious objectors, who refused to kill but performed prodigies of valor during the blitzes as members of rescue squads and fire brigades. The clever little dons, who vanished one day from their universities and were next heard of having dropped by parachute into occupied territory, organizing the resistance, dynamiting bridges, standing up to a firing party in a squalid backyard. The anonymous-looking scientists, who walked up to unexploded bombs and coldly took them to pieces, as though they were demonstrating an experiment in a laboratory, and generally were not blown to bits. ...
I have read some of Nicholas Blake's mysteries in the distant past but I wasn't sure I wanted to read more of them, with the exception of The Beast Must Die, which has a very good reputation. After reading this book, I know I want to find more of his books. Primarily, I liked the author's style of writing, although I have a few quibbles with this book.

Quibble 1: There is too much conversation at the end about the reveal of the culprit. Once the detective (in this case, the amateur detective) knows who it is, I don't want the denouement to be strung out.

Quibble 2: The portrayal of women. Not many women have roles in this book, and those that are there are not especially complimentary. There are plenty of secretaries and assistants mentioned towards the beginning but they fade away when the real detection gets underway. Maybe it makes sense in this context, but still, I noticed the absence.

Thus not a perfect book, but entertaining and a good depiction of the time period. I must be a sucker for mysteries set in the office environment because I also liked With A Bare Bodkin by Cyril Hare (set in another fictitious wartime Government office) and Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers (set in a publicity firm).

Some quotes from a review at PaperBack Swap:
He captures the tensions among different grades of staff and the problems of supervising talented but temperamental people. 
The material on the human factor and red herring combine to make this rather longer than the typical old-time whodunnit, but he’s such a charming writer that we don’t mind.

This review is also a submission for the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt in the "Blond (woman)" category.

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Publisher:   Perennial Library, 1985. Orig. pub. 1947.
Length:      261 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Nigel Strangeways, #8
Setting:      Wartime Britain
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2010.



24 comments:

  1. You're off the mark quickly with the '47 book Tracy! Sounds interesting but I'm not totally convinced that its something I need to read myself.

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    1. Probably not your cup of tea, Col. I do normally end up reviewing my Crimes of the Century book towards the end of the month, but this one was fast and easy to read and review. The rest of the month I plan to concentrate on reading spy fiction... unless I change my mind.

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  2. I read them all years ago and enjoyed them a lot.

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    1. I think I read most of the earlier ones, except for The Beast Must Die. Based on my experience with this one, I will enjoy reading more of them. And I like to read about the time period he wrote... 1935 through the sixties.

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  3. I like this series quite a lot, Tracy, so it's great to see you spotlight one of the Nigel Strangeways novels.

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    1. Glad you like this series, Margot. Of reviews and overviews of Nicholas Blakes mysteries that I read, opinion was divided. But it seems to be a good series for me. I never know how I will like series that I enjoyed decades before.

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  4. Like Patti, I read them all years ago, don't remember much about this one. But now I want to read it again. I like office settings.

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    1. Moira, one of the things I like about the Bernard Samson series is the scenes at the London office. Office politics and gossip are always interesting.

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  5. Shame this isn;t better - I remember several Blake books with great affection but just might go back and re-read THOU SHELL OF DEATH before picking this one up

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    1. Mostly I did enjoy the book, Sergio, and I look forward to trying more, so a good experience overall. I will be looking for copies online or at used book stores.

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  6. I had to think about you this week. Reading a very old classic 'Revenge Play' (1606) by T. Middleton. He often is forgotten in Shakespeare's shadow. But in his play "The Revenger's Tragedy"...now it was a perfect murder! If you don't have the time to read the play (can have a look at my review)...then read the "Sparknotes". The plot is bizarre!

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    1. I don't know anything about T. Middleton, Nancy, but I did go read your post and it would be a good read, if a bit (ok a lot) over my head.

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  7. New to me, and interesting. I share your distaste for rambling anticlimaxes, Tracy, but am wondering if the lack of featured women doesn't reflect the period. Then again, maybe Blake was simply a misogynistic cad.

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    1. You are probably right about that, Mathew... that the lack of women is related to the period. And usually I don't mind that kind of thing. I don't know about Blake being a misogynist, but I did read some articles about the women in his books being portrayals of his lovers / wives? Someday I will read more about that.

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  8. I'm a little bit dubious about Nicholas Blake. There's a certain elitism in his books. In one book he even suggests that it's OK to commit murder as long as you're part of the intellectual elite (as of course Nicholas Blake/Cecil Day Lewis was). That turned me off him as an author.

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    1. I could detect some elitism in this book, in the depiction of the lower classes and the less artistically inclined characters, dfordoom. I will have to see how that affects my enjoyment of other books in the series.

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    2. I get the impression that it wasn't so much the lower classes that he despised - it was everyone who hadn't been to Oxford or Cambridge!

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    3. That is quite possible. I shall have to read more of them and see if I get the same impression.

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    4. TracyK: I will have to keep an eye out for this book. It sounds interesting.

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    5. I hope you find a copy someday, Bill. I have not had a whole lot of luck running into copies at book sales and the like.

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  9. Tracy, I have never heard of Nicholas Blake or even his real name but I like the way this mystery series sounds.

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    1. I did enjoy his books when I was younger, and now I am encouraged to find that I still find them appealing. Cecil Day Lewis was an Irish poet and the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. [That is from Wikipedia.] Also the father of the actor Daniel Day Lewis. Other than that I don't know much about him either.

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    2. Thanks for that bit of info, Tracy. I will keep my eyes open. I haven't spotted him at Books by Weight.

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    3. I do hope you find some of them eventually, Prashant.

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