|Original 1938 UK edition. Photo from John Atkinson Fine and Rare Books|
"I'm going to kill a man. I don't know his name, I don't know where he lives, I have no idea what he looks like. But I am going to find him and kill him ..."
Writing the first part of this book as Cairnes' diary is a move of sheer genius on the author's part, as there is no way anyone will put the book down at that point. Aside from Cairnes' desire for revenge, and his plans to "kill a man," just some nine days later we discover that he has slowly pieced together the identity of the driver as well as the woman in the car at the time. It's no spoiler to reveal that Cairnes now has his sights set on George Rattery (it's right there on the back-cover blurb), who lives with his wife, his son and his mother in Gloucestershire. Eventually he meets Rattery, and not too long afterwards has ingratiated his way into the Rattery home as Felix Lane, where he has devised (and detailed) the perfect method of exacting his revenge, with the added bonus of making George's death look like an accident. One would think that knowing what's going to happen would not leave much room for surprise, but the author is not quite finished with his reader yet. After a shift in viewpoint that begins part two, it seems that not only is Cairnes' murder attempt thwarted, but later, someone back at the Rattery home has taken it upon himself or herself to finish the job, albeit in a different way. A phone call brings in private detective Nigel Strangeways, who agrees to help Cairnes, as he has now become the prime suspect in the eyes of the police even though he swears he is innocent.
Not one more word of plot shall pass my lips (okay, in this case my fingertips) but I will say that my first venture into the mind of Nicholas Blake has been a successful one. Not only is it worthy of my picky inner armchair-detective self, but it also offers an insightful character study as well as the ingenious use of literary references that clicked into place in my head only after finishing the book. Definitely not your typical 1930s, golden-age mystery, and it's one I can most certainly recommend. I loved Georgia Strangeways; I'll now have to backtrack and go back to book number one to find out more about Nigel.
My advice: do NOT read reviews of this book that want to take you to the big reveal. You'll kick yourself if you do, trust me.