The Beast Must Die

The Beast Must Die



The Pequod Review:

Nicholas Blake was the pen name of Cecil Day-Lewis (1904-1972), a British poet and novelist who reluctantly branched out into crime fiction with a series of books featuring the amateur private detective Nigel Strangeways. Day-Lewis revealed his own ambivalence toward the genre in the text of this novel, The Beast Must Die. The book's protagonist is an author (Frank Cairnes) who like Day-Lewis writes detective novels under a pseudonym (Felix Lane):

[My mystery novels] are rather good ones, as it happens, and bring me in a surprising amount of cash: but I am unable to convince myself that detective fiction is a serious branch of literature, so “Felix Lane” has always been absolutely anonymous. My publishers are pledged not to disclose the secret of his identity: after their initial horror at the idea of a writer not being connected with the tripe he turns out, they quite enjoyed making a mystery about it. “Good publicity, this mystery stuff,” they thought, with the simple credulity of their kind, and started whacking it up into quite a stunt. Though who the hell of my “rapidly-growing public” (the publishers’ phrase) cares two hoots who “Felix Lane” is in reality I should very much like to know.

The Beast Must Die is Book #4 in Day-Lewis’s series featuring the witty and eccentric detective Strangeways. A review should not give away the details of the well-structured plot, but suffice to say it involves Strangeways’s defense of Cairns after he is accused of murdering the man who killed his son. The mystery itself mostly works, with only a few missteps, and more impressively the book becomes an excellent character study of the desperate Cairns and the gentlemanly Strangeways.