Mon 27 Feb 2017
by Marcia Muller
NICHOLAS BLAKE – End of Chapter. Harper & Brothers, 1957. Perennial Library, paperback, 1977, 1988. First published in the UK by Collins Crime Club, hardcover, 1957.
The London publishing firm of Wenham & Geraldine has always been a conservative one, but now they are about to become embroiled in a scandal — a libel suit that could cost them both money and reputation. No one can prevent the suit from being filed, but something must be done to ensure that the unfortunate circumstances that prompted it will never happen again.
Nigel Strangeways is summoned by the firm’s partners, who explain the problem of the memoirs of General Richard Thoresby: When the general’s manuscript was received, it contained passages that libeled Thoresby’s rival, Major General Sir Charles Blair-Chatterley. After some argument, the author agreed to delete them, and did so. However, before the manuscript was delivered to the printer,someone reinstated the passages. The book has been withdrawn, but the damage has already been done. Strangeways agrees to investigate, under the guise that he has been hired by the firm to do some specialized reading.
The cast of characters Strangeways encounters includes Stephen Protheroe, the author of one great poem, who has withdrawn into the obscurity of his editorial office for twenty-five years; Millicent Miles, writer of torrid romances, who is currently using the office next to Stephen’s to write her steamy memoirs; Herbert Bates, the production manager, who has been forced into early retirement after many years with the firm; General Thoresby himself, and Cyprian Gleed,the ne’er-do-well son of Miss Miles.
Any of these people- plus a number of less important employees- had the opportunity and motive to alter the proofs. But by the time Strangeways has delved deeper into the situation, murder has been done, and the motive turns out to be more complex than any he has imagined.
This is a well-plotted novel and a good depiction of the publishing world, but it moves very slowly, and Nigel Strangeways fails to come alive in contrast to the other characters — some of whom are extremely memorable. Blake has an irritating habit of making cryptic forecasts such as “He could not know that one of the questions he had asked this morning would lead directly to a murder.” Without these, perhaps the suspense would be greater; as it is, End of Chapter contains few surprises.
Strangeways’s other investigations include The Smiler with the Knife (1939); The Corpse in the Snowman (1941); Minute for Murder (1947), which Barzun and Taylor term Blake’s “masterpiece”; and The Worm of Death (1961). The best of Blake’s non-series crime novels is probably A Penknife in My Heart (1959).
Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.