Sunday, October 23, 2011
A Question of Proof: Review
I picked up A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake a little over 6 months ago at my friendly neighborhood "Friends of the Library" bookstore. It's rare that I can wander into the little bookstore which panders to the bookaholics who frequent the library without wandering back out with at least one or two new-to-me books. They're sneaky that way--offering good used, sometimes rare, and discarded books for miniscule amounts of money. I can feed my book habit and feel virtuous about supporting my library all at the same time. A definite win-win situation.
I decided to read the Blake book as my first entry into JNCL's Read Your Own Library Challenge. I'm in for the basic--Running Behind--level. Just committed to reading one book from my own library per month. I chose it because I was in the mood for a vintage mystery (written in 1935) and one that had an academic setting. I do love me a good academic mystery.
A Question of Proof is the first mystery in Blake's (aka Cecil Day-Lewis, England's Poet Laureate from 1968-72) series starring the charming and erudite Nigel Strangeways. The story is set a Sudeley Hall, a typical boys' preparatory school with the typical mix of popular boys and miscreants; favorite schoolmasters and loathsome teachers. Strangeways is called in when one of the obnoxious boys--the headmaster's nephew no less--is found strangled in one of the haystacks near the school.
The police soon focus their suspicions on Strangeways' friend Michael Evans, a schoolmaster who happens to be in love with the headmaster's wife....and who coincidentally met his love earlier that day in that same haystack. It doesn't help that he managed to lose a silver pencil while wooing his fair lady. Fortunately, the circumstantial evidence isn't quite strong enough to warrant an arrest and Strangeways has a chance to use his charm and his wits to get to ferret out clues--mostly psychological. When the headmaster himself is stabbed and the police decide to arrest their favorite suspects (Evans and the wife), Strangeways puts together a reenactment of the crime and brings down the final curtain.
This was a very nicely done first mystery. The language is lovely--as you would expect from a future Poet Laureate--and the characters are finely drawn. The superintendent may be a bit of a stereotype as a thick-headed policeman, but I think Blake/Day-Lewis is spot-on with his portrayal of the boys at school. Strangeways is most charming, yet a bit odd as it seems vintage detectives should be. The story held my interest and kept me guessing. I thought about the actual criminal, but couldn't really come up with a motive. Three and a half stars.
My next book for the Challenge will be Dragons of Light edited by Orson Scott Card. This is a science fiction/fantasy short story collection that I've had since Christmas of 1999. My best friend gave it to me. I feel guilty for not having read it yet. (And why haven't you? Hmm?) But the thing is, she sent it to me thinking I was still in major SF/fantasy mode and I'd jumped ship back to mysteries without letting her know. I still like SF/fantasy (more SF than fantasy), but I don't seek it out like I do the mystery field. So....I'm going to sit down and read this one during November. This one's for you, Paula.