Friday, November 16, 2007

Beverley Nichols, continued.

I blogged earlier about Beverley Nichols's The Moonflower Murder (1955). I recently finished Nichols's Murder by Request (1960), in which financier Sir Owen Kent enlists sleuth Horatio Green when he receives anonymous letters and phone calls stating that he will die within the week. Green accompanies Sir Owen to a health resort owned by Sir Owen's sister and fanatical brother-in-law, and, as prophesied, Sir Owen is shot amid a roomful of people, many of whom have excellent reasons for wanting him dead.

The pudgy Green's doleful contemplation of his allotted glass of carrot juice and subsequent sneaking out for a steak will strike a sympathetic chord with any dieting reader. The tabloid account of the murder, ladled with gloriously overwrought prose ("It happened last night, at nine o'clock precisely. That hour will be forever graven on the tablets of memory"), suggests that Nichols was poking fun at Fleet Street, as he worked as a journalist during his career. The novel has some neat twists, sober wrestling by Green over ethical dilemmas (e.g., would the revelation of the murderer harm more people than it would help), and terrific writing such as the following:
[Superintendent Waller] had always loved the song of the wind in the pine trees. His life had been filled with very different echoes. The sound of voices raised in altercation, the wail of police cars, shrilling through mean city streets, the short, hoarse bark of a revolver in the dark . . . the final full- stop to the story of a human soul. It was nicer under the pine trees. (120)
Sadly, Nichols's mysteries are out of print.

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