It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted on the Alphabet of Crime Fiction – partly as I didn’t have much time, having started my Ellery Queen Bibliography and partly because I didn’t have any U or V books on my shelf. There are three early Ellery Queen’s that fit X, Y and Z if you bend the rules a bit, but this might be my last posting on the Alphabet.
Anyway, onto The Worm of Death. Nigel Strangeways doesn’t spend the whole book battling a monstrous worm, but in fact is investigating the possible suicide of Dr Piers Loudron, the patriarch of a small family who apparently cut his own wrists and then jumped into the River Thames. It seems, however, that the cuts on each wrist are of equal depth and single straight cuts. Easy enough to do that for the first one, not so easy to concentrate for the second one. So, was it murder?
The book opens with an excerpt from Dr Loudron’s diary – He intends to kill me. And I must let him kill me. It goes on with the good Doctor writing that he’s going to thwart the mysterious him by killing himself. But if that was the case, how did he do it?
It’s an interesting one this one. It’s very well written, as you would expect from Nicholas Blake, aka Cecil Day-Lewis, and the cast are all fully rounded, even those who only appear in a single chapter. You feel that you know these people, although it has to be said, there’s a bit of a misfire with Walter, the beau of the daughter of the house (an artist) and Sharon, the wife of one of the sons, who’s sex-mad. It feels a bit like Blake read that such people existed in the sixties and then wrote about them without ever meeting someone of that ilk. These characters, especially Sharon, are all about extremes without ever settling down. Unrealistic to me, but entertaining all the same. To be fair, I wasn’t around in 1961 either – maybe Blake was right and I’m wrong.
After the delights of The Case of the Abominable Snowman, I was prepared for a treat and feel I ought to have been disappointed in the rather unsurprising murderer. In the other book, Blake did a wonderful trick by having a small cast of characters and still making a surprise out of it (without making a murderer out of Gardener No 3, who appeared on p. 41). Here he again keeps the cast small and has the murderer one of that cast – if anything, I was surprised that it was quite as obvious as it was. There are a few clues that in the hands of other authors would have a double meaning – here the clues that you expect to mean something other than the obvious mean exactly they appear to mean.
So, in summary, it’s a great read, with the mystery engrossing but with an unsurprising denouement. I wonder, though… If this was the first Blake I read, would I have gone out to hunt down any more? Not sure, to be honest.
Oh, and the titular Worm? That’s Nigel himself, insinuating himself into the lives of the suspects…