A Question of Proof

Poet’s promising debut detective novel

The Vintage edition of A Question of Proof
The Vintage edition of
A Question of Proof
Nicholas Blake’s first Nigel Strangeways Mystery, A Question of Proof, published in 1935, is a cleverly written story set in a public school for boys with a complex plot that keeps the reader guessing right till the end.

It is the annual sports day at Sudely Hall on a glorious summer’s day and all the parents and children are looking forward to the races. But by the end of the afternoon the police have to be called when the headmaster’s obnoxious nephew is found in a haystack having been strangled.

The English master, Michael Evans, who is in love with the headmaster’s beautiful young wife, soon finds himself the police’s main suspect for the murder and so he calls in Nigel Strangeways, an old friend from university who has become an amateur detective, to investigate the case ‘on behalf of the school’.

The author of A Question of Proof was the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, who eventually became Poet Laureate. At the age of 31 he turned to crime writing to supplement his income from poetry, using the pseudonym Nicholas Blake.

He was hailed by the reviewers as a master of detective fiction and went on to produce another 15 Nigel Strangeways Mysteries as well as four detective novels and some short stories that don’t feature his series character.

Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, alias novelist Nicholas Blake
Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis,
alias novelist Nicholas Blake
I was surprised when I began reading A Question of Proof that an omniscient point of view is used at the start to show the reader round the school and introduce the main characters among the masters and the boys.

The spotlight is on the young good-looking Evans, who is preoccupied with arranging a secret assignation with Hero, the wife of the Rev Percival Vale, the headmaster.

But once Nigel Strangeways arrives, the story is mostly told from his point of view. He joins forces with the investigating officer, Superintendent Armstrong, to try to solve the crime. Armstrong’s willing cooperation is explained by the fact that Strangeways is a nephew to the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard.

Cecil Day-Lewis, aka Nicholas Blake, describes the environment of a public school for boys brilliantly, showing the bickering between the masters and the factions among the boys. Strangeways is received well by masters and boys alike and quickly reveals his talent for blending in with any company, along with displaying his own small eccentricities, such as drinking large quantities of tea.

In order to solve the crime, he has to join the Black Spot gang and pass the initiation rituals imposed by the members, but he then has the support of a small group of boys who open up about what they know and help him with his investigation. Interestingly, he uses psychology to solve the crime, rather than concentrating on the most obvious suspects in the manner of the police. It is not surprising that Strangeways was a fictional detective who was going to live on for another 30 years.

All the Nigel Strangeways Mysteries have now been republished by Vintage Books.

They are available from or




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