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Blake, Nicholas

Page history last edited by Jon 11 years, 6 months ago

Nicholas BlakeNicholas Blake was a pseudonym of Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) (27 April 1904 – 22 May 1972). Day-Lewis was an English poet born in Ballintubber, County Laois, Ireland, the son of the Rev. Frank Cecil Day Lewis and Kathleen Squires. He was educated at Wadham College, Oxford, where he made the acquaintance of W. H. Auden.


After working as a school-teacher for some years, he eventually became a full-time writer, supplementing his poetry income by writing crime novels. His twenty novels of mystery and detection include the classic whodunnits Thou Shell of Death (1935) and The Beast Must Die (1938). Most of them feature the detective Nigel Strangeways.


Day Lewis's early mystery novels are full of literary references, from Shakespeare to Blake, Keats, Arthur Hugh Clough and A.E. Housman. The critic and award-winning mystery writer H.R.F. Keating included in 1987 The Beast Must Die among the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published. Day Lewis's own son was almost run over in a circumstance similar to that which the story describes. It begins with the promise: "I am going to kill a man... I have no idea what he looks like. But I am going to find him and kill him." The title of the story was taken from the text of Brahms' Four Serious Songs, a paraphrase of the Book of Ecclesiastes: "The beast must die, the man dieth also, yea both must die." The Private Wound (1968) concerns the problems that divide Ireland, and was considered the most autobiographical of the author's works in the mystery genre. Thou Shell of Death (1936) was a contemporary version of Cyril Tourneur's gory 1607 play, The Revenger's Tragedy.


During the Second World War he worked as a publications editor in the Ministry of Information. After the war, he joined publisher Chatto & Windus as a director and senior editor. He later taught poetry at Oxford (where he was Professor of Poetry) and other universities.


He lived with his second wife, the actress Jill Balcon, in Croom's Hill, Greenwich, London.


In 1968, Day-Lewis was appointed Poet Laureate, a position he held until his death four years later. He was buried in Stinsford churchyard, Dorset, near the grave of Thomas Hardy.


He had five children. Out of his first marriage came a son, TV critic and writer Sean Day-Lewis, who wrote a biography of his father (C. Day Lewis: An English Literary Life) published in 1980 and another son, Nicholas. From his second marriage came Academy Award winning actor, Daniel Day-Lewis and journalist Tamasin Day-Lewis.

 Mike Grost on Nicholas Blake

As a critic, Blake was especially enthusiastic about Agatha Christie, writing numerous rave reviews of her works during the 1930's. His stories tend to be in the intuitionist mode. He has that intuitionist mainstay, the genius amateur detective, and plots based on ingenious clues and clever twists rather than detectival routine. A story like "A Study in White" (1949) is notable for the number of mysterious situations it contains - at least four - all of which are used to provide both puzzle plots, and clues to the identity of the killer. Blake's skill at constructing a complex narrative, and embedding clues therein, remind one of John Dickson Carr. So do the multiple mysteries in his tales, another Carr tradition. His stories tend not to be impossible crimes, but they do echo the pure detectival technique of Carr's narratives. Nor does he have the quasi-supernatural atmosphere of Carr. Instead, Blake's stories take place against a setting of daily life. There is often some sharp sociological detail in Blake's work, which takes place more in the everyday reality of Britain, than in any sort of fantasy escapist world. This story takes place on a train, a favorite Golden Age setting.




A Question of Proof (1935)

Thou Shell of Death (1936) aka Shell of Death

There's Trouble Brewing (1937)

The Beast Must Die (1938)

The Smiler with the Knife (1939)

Malice in Wonderland (1940) aka The Summer Camp Mystery / The Malice with Murder

Minute for Murder (1947)

Head of a Traveller (1949)

The Dreadful Hollow (1953)

The Whisper in the Gloom (1954) aka Catch and Kill

End of Chapter (1957)

The Widow's Cruise (1959)

The Worm of Death (1961)

The Sad Variety (1964)

The Morning After Death (1966)

The Case of the Abominable Snowman (1941) aka The Corpse in the Snowman

A Tangled Web (1956) aka Death and Daisy Bland

A Penknife in My Heart (1958)

The Deadly Joker (1963)

The Private Wound (1968)


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