Thou Shell Of Death (1936) by Nicholas Blake

Well, things are pretty miserable over here in the UK, but at least this Christmas, we haven’t been invited to spend the holidays at a Golden Age Christmas party. That’s what Nigel Strangeways and an eclectic mix of individuals have been invited to, hosted by Fergus O’Brien. O’Brien, a famous pilot, has been receiving death threats, so decides that the best way of dealing with them is to invite all of the people who may have a reason to kill him to play charades and eat some turkey with him, along with an amateur detective who has solved one case so far in his life…

Needless to say, it’s not long before there’s a dead body. It seems to be suicide – it occurs in an isolated building with only one set of footprints leading to it. But Nigel knows better – murder has occurred, but can he bring the killer to justice?

First of all, if you want to read a far more intellectual review of this one, and its literary themes, then do read Kate’s review at Cross Examining Crime – it’s got references and everything! Me, I’m going to blether on about this one, but I’ll be honest, it’s a bit tricky.

First of all, let me go on record as saying that when I read it, I really enjoyed it. It’s not very Christmassy, Nigel cold have handled the denouement in a way that would have had far less drastic consequences (although a certain character doesn’t seem to mind when she really, really should), but there’s a clever idea at the heart of it, and as I said, I really enjoyed reading it.

But then I thought about it more, with the help of the book group I’ve recently joined, the more I realised that the shenanigans going on here don’t make a lick of sense.

That’s hardly a unique criticism for a Golden Age title, and I think the core idea here is clever. But Blake fumbles other aspects of the plot. Too many of the suspects aren’t viable, narrowing down the reader’s suspicions too much and the plot does rely on something of an exposition dump towards the end. But as I said, overall, I found it to be an enjoyable read. Just don’t think about the logistics too hard afterwards…

The Nicholas Blake mysteries, should you want to try them, have all been re-released by Agora Books.


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