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Head of a Traveller

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 1 month ago

Blake, Nicholas - Head of a Traveller (1949) aka Head of a Traveler (US)


Robert Seaton is a Major Poet. He lives at Plash Meadow, an elegant manor house in the English countryside, with his wife Janet, who provides the money for its upkeep, and his two children from a previous marriage, Lionel and Vanessa. A mentally retarded dwarf, Finny Black, serves as a man-of-all-work, and two artists, Rennell Torrance and his daughter Mara, rent and live in a barn on the estate.


Nigel Strangeways makes a courtesy visit while staying nearby with a friend. He senses tension in the Seaton household. Two months later when a headless corpse is dragged from a river that runs through the estate, it is to Plash Meadow that Nigel returns. Living in the Seaton menage, he is able to piece together the history of the crime, recover the missing head, and successfully identify the murderer and accomplices.


The story is competently told and fairly clued, though a little long-winded at 244 pages. I am not a Blake fan, though, and Nigel's intuitive insights into people's emotional states left me unimpressed. Nor do I share Blake's predictable belief in the all-importance of poetry. There is one especially embarrassing scene in which -- invoking the Blessed Saint Freud -- Nigel performs a miracle cure on a deep-rooted emotional trauma. "You see, although you were attacked by this man when you were fourteen, you really wanted to be raped." Exeunt, smiling in benediction. The character of Finny Black, which starts off with some promise, turns out to be no more than a convenient plot device; his actions in the book are wildly out of keeping with what we are told of him at the outset. And the victim, though a rotter, hardly deserves the storm of murderous passion that his arrival invokes. "Hello, dear, I'm home!" "Take that!"


Though the overall tone is gloomy, there are fine descriptions, moments of insight and flashes of humour. I'm glad to have read it, if only to contrast with the lighter and -- to me -- more entertaining works of Innes and Crispin in this genre.


By the way, the hilarious Houseman parody from which the title is drawn can be found here.



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