Delightful, humorous and bursting with allusions. The solution rests on sound literary knowledge. Nigel Strangeways is a romantic, slightly flawed, erudite and rather mischievous private investigator (an ‘amateur,’ as he calls himself sometimes), with a perfect verbal memory. He falls asleep when he should not, falls in love with the prime suspect, loves a hearty meal. A likable fellow, prone to comedy, much like Charles Unwin from The Manual of Detection. Importantly, he is not a misogynist. Yes, folks. Misogynist, not.
The most important literary allusion is, of course, to The Revenger’s Tragedy. In the book, the quotes from the play are attributed to Cyril Tourneur, while I am led to believe that the correct reference ought to have been to Thomas Middleton. There’s a bit of confusion on this point, and not having read the play, I will say no more.
But apart from the express references in the book itself, I was struck by certain points of similarity between said book and The Rules of the Game, a (legendary) 1939 French film by Jean Renoir. One day, I will investigate these similarities to understand how they came to be, but it is entirely possible that these similarities are, in fact, mere coincidences. In both works: (a) we are exposed to the partying ways of upper-class individuals in the 1930s; (b) a man who can fly a plane is shot; and (c) a man trying to break up with his mistress invites said mistress to a retreat in a country estate. I think these connections are owed to some rather standardized plot elements derived from the “literature of the past.” If there are similarities to The Rules of the Game, then perhaps I should drag Gosford Park into my investigation as well. But this is all fodder for another day that I’d like to waste in this delicious, pointless exercise.
Thou Shell of Death is a very good (standalone) read. In my detective-fiction reading line-up this was preceded by The Murders in the Rue Morgue, which was charlatanerie at its best, even though Poe’s narrator would like us to believe otherwise. If there were ever a human pyramid of Likable Non-Charlatan Detectives, Nigel Strangeways’ sandy-coloured hair would be blowing in a breeze quite near the top.