Sunday, November 04, 2007

Beverley Nichols.
I have never understood this strange prejudice against complexes. I am a mass of complexes, and so are you, and I am quite devoted to them. The more the merrier, as far as I am concerned. — Beverley Nichols, Sunlight on the Lawn (148)
Beverley Nichols (1898-1983) seems to have been one of those versatile British men of letters. Writer, journalist, composer, and poet, he published his first book, Prelude, while he was at Oxford and covered the notorious Thompson-Bywaters murder trial in the early 1920s (listen to F. Tennyson Jesse's A Pin to See the Peep Show, based on the Thompson-Bywaters case, on BBC Radio 4 from Nov 5 to Nov 9th).

A friend of Noel Coward, Nellie Melba, and Queen Marie of Romania and a relative of John Masefield, Nichols caused considerable controversy when he confessed to trying to kill his alcoholic father in Father Figure (1972) and attacked Somerset Maugham in A Case of Human Bondage (1966) when Maugham falsely accused his dead wife of infidelity in print. (Best Nichols quote, quoting Coward on a photo of Maugham: "Dear Willie Maugham. The Lizard of Oz.")

Timber Press has reprinted Nichols's popular gardening books. He also wrote five mysteries featuring the mild-mannered Horatio Green, a keen gardener with a remarkable sense of smell: No Man's Street (1954), The Moonflower (aka The Moonflower Murder, 1955), Death to Slow Music (1956), The Rich Die Hard (1958), and Murder by Request (1960). I read The Moonflower Murder, in which a wealthy woman is killed in a house of scheming relatives and acquaintances. Despite some distracting episodes of "let's step outside the narrative now and look at Mr. Green" and Had-I-But-Known incidents, it's an interesting tale of a murder committed twice.


Martin Edwards said...

Nichols is one of those writers who, I think, came to detective fiction too late. Had the Horatio Green books appeared 20 years earlier, the chances are that they would have made more impact. As it is, your blog entry is the first mention I've seen of them for years.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

I first encountered Nichols in Vera Brittain's _Testament of Youth_ (1933); he was the editor of the _Oxford Outlook_ in which some of her work appeared. Of course, his _Cry Havoc!_ (1933) was a major pacifist work.

I also think that he was spread so thin trying to keep the wolf from the door that his work suffered. If he had had a bit more time to really hone his writing, I think we may have seen some really quality material. I believe he says somewhere (probably in _Beverley Nichols: A Life_) that his detective fiction was financially unsuccessful.