The Widow’s Cruise (Nicholas Blake)

By Nicholas Blake

First published: UK, Collins, 1959; US, Harper, 1959


My review

The Widow’s Cruise, with its sparkling humour, witty dialogue, amusing characters and sense of ease, is a throwback to the more light-hearted and humorous detective stories of the 1930s.

It is a distinct pleasure to come across a relaxed and angstless Nigel Strangeways and his sculptress mistress Clare Massinger on a Greek cruise. Cruise-ships always provide a good closed circle, because of the increased mobility afforded by the size of the vessel and the number of sites that can be visited.

In this case, following an excursion to Kalymnos, Ianthe Ambrose, a horrible frump, is thrown overboard within a few minutes of the murder of Primrose Chalmers, the obnoxious daughter of a pair of lay-analysts. The suspects are vivid and colourful, and there is plenty of skulduggery aboard the T.S.S. Menelaos to add to the mystification. The detection is at its best: Blake draws up convincing dummy cases against the suspects in the best tradition, and lulls the reader into a false sense of security, into feeling that the solution is obvious—and then springs a particularly subtle surprise, relying on SPOILER an ingenious use of impersonation. Although we have seen this solution before in Blake’s books, it is handled in as fine a manner as it was twenty-odd years ago.

Some critics claim that Blake stole the plot from SPOILER Christianna Brand’s Tour de Force (1955), but both books, and Blake’s earlier There’s Trouble Brewing have their roots in an Agatha Christie short story. The clues are subtly placed; yet, in retrospect, as obvious as they should be.


Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Anthony Lejeune, 6th March 1959):

THE HUNTER AND THE HUNTED

Happily returned from the dangerous allurements of the crime story-cum-novel, Nicholas Blake, alias Professor Cecil Day Lewis gives us another straight detective story of the kind on which he built his reputation.  The writing is as smooth and literate as ever, though one may perhaps rebuke the carelessness which allows Mr. Blake to refer to “Bishop Makarios” and to explain Linear B without mentioning the name of Ventris.

In The Widow’s Cruise he adopts the fashionable expedient of shipboard as a substitute for the old country house party in providing a closed circle of suspects.  The cruise ship Menelaos leaves Athens for a tour of the Aegean islands, carrying the usual highly charged group of  mutually amorous or hostile passengers.  Among them, detached but observant, is Nigel Strangeways, who soon finds himself in charge of an investigation into the simultaneous disappearance of one passenger and murder of another.

When Dr. Adenauer said recently that the British wrote the best detective stories in the world, he had this sort of book in mind, competent and civilised, agreeably relaxed and yet intellectually flattering.

 

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 15th March 1959):

Nigel Strangeways and his sultry sculptress very-close-friend, Clare, go for one of those Hellenic Travellers’ Cruises in the Aegean which help to compensate whodunnit writers for the loss of the house-party.  Company includes rich crop of neurotics and shadies.  First victim a psychoanalyst’s child trained to observe and interrogate.  Second, one of a pair of mixed-up sisters.  Lively chat and characters.  Some improbable clue and body manipulation leading up to a double-take finish that demands indulgence.