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Mystery Monday Review – The Worm of Death

The Worm of Death by Nicholas Blake

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


Cecil Day-Lewis, classics prof and poet laureate, didn’t take seriously the 20 or so detective novels he wrote as Nicholas Blake. This does not mean they deserve their neglected status nowadays. In fact, this novel is gloomy enough to appeal to post-modern readers who like dark mysteries.

This 1961 story, the 14th featuring series hero Nigel Strangeways, opens with PI Strangeways and his artist wife Clare Massinger having dinner with a troubled family. The head of the household Piers Louden, a doctor, is sarcastic and tyrannical. Daughter Rebecca longs to be free to marry her artist BF whom her father dislikes. Son James, also a doctor, fears making a misstep that will hurt his reputation. His other son Harold is a flash businessman and his trophy wife Sharon is as flirty as we’d expect. The favorite son, Graham, has the air of an ‘old lag’ (ex-con) in Strangeways’ canny eye.

The setting of docks, alleys, barges, and the Isle of Dogs in the East End of London is the main attraction here. Greenwich was a shabby part of London in the early Sixties. We readers walk in the February chill and fog along the banks of the River Thames. It’s the perfect backdrop for Father Piers to go missing and then turn up dead in Thames clad only in a tweed coat. Son James hires Strangeways to investigate which he does with the help of Inspector Wright. They narrow the circle of suspects down to members of the unhappy family.

Blake’s dark realism is decidedly not cozy. The reveal chills us readers with its plausibility. Blake makes the convincing claim that WWII claimed its victims even after the cessation of hostilities in 1945.




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