The One with the Twisted Sisters

Nicholas Blake, The Dreadful Hollow (1953)

I confess that I was going to thrash the book: knowing that this is a reprint from 1953 and that the author is dead since 1972, I thought I wouldn’t do much personal harm. But then I learnt that Nicholas Blake is actually the pseudonym of poet Cecil Day-Lewis, and I was so perplex that I stopped writing this post altogether.

Nicholas Blake apparently wrote a whole series of rather cosy mysteries featuring amateur sleuth Nigel Strangeways from the 1930s to the 1960s. This one is the 10th, and maybe not the best (or at least I hope so). I chose it on Netgalley because I wanted to read a classic British mystery and it seemed to fit the bill. Unfortunately it has quite aged and not like a good wine.

In short, I could not suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy this story. There are many characters, but the crux of the mystery revolves around two sisters, one crippled after the discovery of their dead father’s body and one who has dedicated her life to helping her sister. There are also two brothers (one of them falls in love with the second sister) and a religious maniac. It starts as a poison pen mystery, but soon graduates into assault and then murder, but the pace remains a bit too leisurely for my taste.

How does this rather dull story fit into the writing list of a Poet Laureate? I am still scratching my head, especially as Nigel Strangeways is supposed to be modelled on Auden. Maybe Day-Lewis needed that to pay the bills. It’s hard to resist the pun, and declare that the book was just what it promised : dreadful and hollow, but it wasn’t really that bad. The atmosphere rang true, but not the characters, and the plot was too convoluted for its own good, ending in total implausibility.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC (although I’m not sure they’ll thank me for this post)


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