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Mystery Monday Review – The Smiler with the Knife


The Smiler with the Knife by Nicholas Blake

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In this 1939 spy thriller, the series hero Nigel Strangeways stays in the background while his wife, Georgia Cavendish, takes on a dangerous assignment from Nigel’s Scotland Yard Uncle John. A renowned traveler, Georgia is eminently qualified to be an adventure heroine. She’s brave and resourceful. She’s quick-thinking enough to be able to draw mental maps of the lay of the land and to make snap judgements of whether people are trustworthy.

Uncle John Strangeways is head of domestic counter-intelligence for Scotland Yard. He has grave concerns that a secret group called English Banner has plans to foment economic and civil unrest, undermine the confidence of the people in democracy and install a strongman.

Uncle recruits Georgia to infiltrate the group. “It’s somewhere among the rich families that we’ve got to look for the centre of the movement,” Sir John says. “You’re a legend yourself: this movement would be glad to make use of you.” Though she hates pretending to break up with her husband, she loves her country and so agrees to infiltrate the dangerous fascist group.

Georgia is a great character, fully realized in her ability to keep cool even while tired and hard-pressed. The other finely drawn character is the leader of the fascist group. His egoism doesn’t stop him being cunning and charismatic. Other vivid characters are a reporter and a cricket star who help Georgia fight the enemy.

Taking a cue from writers of adventure tales like Rider Haggard and John Buchan, Blake effectively propels the story, moving deftly between scenes of action. The fascists have an uncanny ability to track Georgia as they pursue her across Northern England. The chase scenes really are a cut above most mystery thrillers and Blake’s own fiction.

I highly recommend this WWII-era thriller. It a satisfying blend of characterization, plotting and exciting incident.




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