I have taken a break from all of the Bouchercon thrillers that constituted my reading for a few weeks to go back to the Golden Age mysteries waiting for me on my TBR stack. This week’s read was The Worm of Death by Nicholas Blake (Harper, 1961), the 14th title in the Nigel Strangeways series. Nicholas Blake is the pseudonym of Cecil Day-Lewis (27 April 1904 – 22 May 1972), the UK Poet Laureate from 1951 until his death. His protagonist in 16 of his books is Nigel Strangeways, an upper-class Oxford-educated amateur investigator in the style of Lord Peter Wimsey or Albert Campion. He is the nephew of an Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard, giving him status with and access to official crime investigation and law enforcement groups. This series first began in 1935 and ended in 1966, with a hiatus during World War II.
In this story, Strangeways and his partner, sculptor Clare Massinger, have moved into a house in Greenwich. They are invited to dinner to meet some of their new neighbors, Dr. Piers Loudron and his family. Rebecca, the only daughter, has become engaged to a man her father dislikes. The oldest son James followed his father into the practice of medicine but is overshadowed by his brilliant father. Harold runs a business of some sort and has married a beautiful woman with roving eyes. Graham, the youngest, was adopted by Dr. Loudron as a teenager and is openly the doctor’s favorite, to the resentment of the others.
Nigel and Clare are startled to learn a few days after their dinner at the Loudron household that Dr. Loudron has disappeared, leaving his house in the middle of the night during a classic London days-long dense fog. The diary that the doctor mentioned during their visit is also missing. The police are called in but no clue to the doctor’s whereabouts is found until about 10 days later when his body surfaces in the nearby river.
Even though this book was released in 1961, it is classic Golden Age in every way: The unconventional family with its secrets and open resentments, the detective who relies on talking to suspects and witnesses and identifying discrepancies and conflicts in their statements rather than physical evidence, the law enforcement colleague who provides forensic details, the atmospheric setting. The river and the people who live on and near it as well as the ships that frequent it are referenced often throughout and described in exquisite detail. The writing is beautiful and literate, an absolute pleasure to read, although the use of dashes in place of curses and epithets definitely dates it. Highly recommended for anyone interested in classic detective fiction.
· Mass Market Paperback: 243 pages
· Publisher: HarperCollins (paper) (January 1986)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0060804009
· ISBN-13: 978-0060804008
Aubrey Hamilton ©2018
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.