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A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake

A Question of Proof (1935)

by Nicholas Blake

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185897,912 (3.54)17
In the first book in the Nigel Strangeways classic crime series, an obnoxious schoolboy is found dead at his school Sports Day.



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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I enjoyed this mystery much better than I thought I would. Nicholas Blake’s writing is wryly humorous which does not let the book become mundane. I do hate the mushy romance in it, and I feel people being suspected of murder will not blurt out romantic dialogues as though they were automatons! But I am naturally repelled by any romance in my mystery, so this reflects my own pet peeve more than anything else. ( )
  Porua | Jun 18, 2019 |
Somehow I expected more from the Poet Laureate as a mystery writer. It's OK as a story, but drawn out too much and some of it was pretty silly. When the amateur sleuth tells the detective on the phone "I know who the murderer is. I'll tell you tomorrow" he was lucky he wasn't the next victim. The characters were one-dimensional and scarcely believable. I'll be generous and give it three stars, but it barely deserves that. ( )
  VivienneR | Sep 8, 2017 |
This 1938 mystery, set in an English boys' school, introduces Nigel Strangeways. I had a fun afternoon reading this and could not figure out who the murderer was or what the motive was. I even went back to earlier parts and reread them looking for clues that Strangeways says are there.

I look forward to reading some more of this series, especially since I own some :) ( )
  leslie.98 | Sep 19, 2016 |
A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake is a murder mystery set in a boy’s school in rural England. The first victim is a student, the obnoxious nephew of the head master. He was murdered during the school’s sports day and his body was found in a haystack. The police suspect one of the teachers, Michael Evans as he had both motive and opportunity. Evan’s friend Nigel Strangeways arrives to assist in the investigation, but unfortunately the case isn’t solved in time to prevent another murder from occurring.

This was my first read of a Nicholas Blake mystery. His character, Nigel Strangeways is an eccentric, tea-guzzling detective, but really it is the author who garners most of the attention. Apparently he started writing mysteries in 1935 as his roof needed repairing and mysteries were the current popular genre. Nicholas Blake is in reality, Cecil Day Lewis, who went on to become England’s poet laureate. He is also the father of actor Daniel Day Lewis.

I found the opening rather drawn out with some strange asides from the author thrown into the mix, and although I was expecting the overall feel of the book to be more literate than it was, this was a competent mystery with plenty of suspects and red herrings. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Sep 14, 2016 |
During the Sports Day at Studeley Hall school an unpopular boy is found strangled. One of the masters is having an affair with the wife of the headmaster and they were found to have been indulging in their passion in the very haystack that hid the body.
The police (as police often are) are largely baffled and onto the scene comes amateur detective Nigel Strangeways. There is another murder which is seemingly unconnected,before the case is closed and the real murderer is discovered,but not bought to justice.
Nicholas Blake,or Cecil Day-Lewis to call him by his real name,was Poet Laureate and because of this it is easy to see why some of the descriptive passages are so well written. I liked in particular the school secret society known as "The Black Spot", and how Strangeways is set three difficult tasks by the society. When he has performed these,he will be allowed to join and will be informed of an important clue. The description of how he goes about these tasks is hilarious.
A really enjoyable and readable book with a tea-loving and very human detective. ( )
  devenish | Nov 30, 2012 |
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The scene is a bedroom in Sudeley Hall preparatory school: not one of the airy, green-washed, ostentatiously hygienic dormitories so reassuring to the science-ridden mind of modern parenthood; but one of those bedrooms, resembling in its extreme narrowness and draughtiness nothing so much as a section of corridor in an express train, which tradition assigns to dons, schoolmasters and the lower ranks of domestic servant.
It was his obvious and genuine interest in the person he was talking to - a far more sincere form of flattery than imitation - that was his passport to so many differing types of individual. This interest was actually far less flattering to the individual than it seemed on the surface, for it proceeded from scientific and not sentimental curiosity, but its ultimately impersonal nature was concealed by Strangeways' personal vitality and good manners, and very few of those who were subjects of it realised that they were dealing with a kind of human microscope. (Chapter VII)
A question of proof. That's a good title for a detective story, if you ever write one.
Poor devil! None of us can have the remotest idea of the agony it is to be despised and rejected of men. A cancer in the soul and then madness. The feeling of there being a curtain, more invisible than gauze, stronger than iron, between one’s self and one’s fellow man. To cry out of the abyss and to know that there will be no answer, that one is buried alive.
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A Question of Proof is not unlike other mysteries from the 1930s in that the setting (in this case, Sudeley preparatory school) is populated by an abundance of suspects. Algernon Wyvern-Wemyss, a most unpopular student, is found strangled. A young instructor, Michael Evans, is on the list of suspects for this heinous crime. Nigel Strangeways is asked to investigate the murder on behalf of the school, a task made more difficult as Evans and Strangeways were good friends during their school years at Oxford.

Strangeways had been having difficulty making ends meet as a poet, and had settled upon a career as a private investigator. Strangeways said it was the only career left which offered scope to good manners and scientific curiosity, and even paid, on occasion, quite handsomely. It helped somewhat that his uncle was a commissioner with Scotland Yard.


Nigel Strangeways is called in to find the murderer who has disrupted the normal chaos of Sudeley Hall, a boys preparatory school. The police suspect his friend Michael Evans, one of the teachers, who is in love with the headmaster's wife. The headmaster is stabbed while everyone is concentrating on the climax of an exciting cricket match between Parents and School. But what has happened to the murder weapon?


The faculty and student body at Sudeley are shocked but scarcely saddened when the headmaster’s obnoxious nephew, Algernon Wyvern-Wemyss, is found dead in a haystack on Sports Day. But when the young English master, Michael Evans, becomes a suspect in the case, he’s greatly relieved when his clever friend Nigel Strangeways, who is beginning to make a name for himself as a private inquiry agent, shows up to lend a hand to the local constabulary.

Strangeways immediately wins over the students and even becomes an initiate in one of their secret societies, The Black Spot, whose members provide him with some of the information he needs to solve the case. In the meantime Michael and Hero Vale, the pretty young wife of the headmaster, continue their hopeless love affair. When another murder follows, Strangeways is soon certain of the murderer’s identity, but until he can prove it, he’s reluctant to share his theory with the unimaginative but thorough Superintendent Armstrong.

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