The Case of the Abominable Snowman (Nicholas Blake)

  • By Nicholas Blake
  • First published: UK: Collins, 1941; US: Harper, 1941, as The Corpse in the Snowman

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A classic. Blake takes the snowbound country-house, with its household consisting of “a trollop, an Anglo-Saxon squire, an American wife, a rolling stone, a fribble, and a quack,” and makes something new of it. Unlike the earlier Thou Shell of Death, however, this is no Innesian parody, but a psychologically bleak portrait of the horrors of drug addiction; the villainous drug dealer and blackmailer is perhaps the most horrifying, and convincing, embodiment of evil in Blake’s works. The human sleuth Nigel Strangeways reasons from the cat Scribbles and Macbeth to discover whether Elizabeth Restarick hanged herself or was murdered, and who “the man who revels in evil … whose very existence seems to depend upon the power to hurt or degrade others” is; the solution is quite unusual.

Blurb (UK)

It was the extraordinary behaviour of Scribbles the cat that provided Nigel Strangeways with the first clue in one of his greatest murder hunts.  For Scribbles, usually quiet, sedate and well behaved, made quite an exhibition of himself after drinking a saucer of milk, and to everyone’s consternation executed a wild dervish dance round the room.  On the foundation of this feline fit Nigel Strangeways builds up a formidable mass of evidence.  The Case of the Abominable Snowman is an exceptionally able and well-written story by a very popular writer.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 4th October 1941): Since somebody else has had the idea of concealing a body in a snowman, Mr. Blake wisely melts his in the opening chapter, although the incident belongs to the ending of this mystery.  “The problem of evil.  That’s the only really interesting thing about crime,” says one of the characters, adding, “What about the man who revels in evil?”  This raises great expectations and they are lived up to.  Greater horrors than bloodshed get under the scalp of those who read this book.  The finding of the body that signifies is a masterly scene of the macabre.  Incidents, recalled one by one, are assembled into the story of a twisted life calculated to make anyone wince.  The problems are skilfully set and unexpectedly solved, but whatever follows the discovery of loveliness blighted was bound to be something of an anti-climax.

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 25th October 1941): The Case of the Abominable Snowman is written with great competence, some wit and a faint tone of condescension—a combination we have learnt to expect from the author.  The plot has its good moments.  A sedate cat drinks a saucer of milk and goes haywire; a fascinating woman is found provocatively hung; and a snowman proves to be a snowman in more ways than one.  The motive is decidedly original although I doubt whether it will bear the load put on it.  But the pace is disappointing.  The writing is high-powered, but in low gear, and there are long flat stretches of Nigel Strangeways emphasising his charms to try the reader’s patience.