I must admit that I find seagoing cruises to be tremendously relaxing. In fact, my wife and I are about to leave for an extended cruise from New York City to Québec and back again. So it seemed to be a good time to feature an excellent mystery about cruising. How about The Widow's Cruise, by Nicholas Blake? Unfortunately, it may not be quite as relaxing as you might think. That's the book we'll be reviewing on the Classic Mysteries podcast this week, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
"Nicholas Blake" was the pen name used by the poet Cecil Day-Lewis when he was writing his detective novels, most featuring amateur detective Nigel Strangeways, whose father is a Scotland Yard official. As the book begins, Nigel has made reservations for himself and his companion, sculptress Clare Massinger, on a summer cruise to the islands of Greece. Clare finds herself in need of taking a break and refreshing her creative sensibilities. They book passage on the cruise ship Menelaos, sailing from Athens and stopping first at the island of Delos and then moving on to other islands:
Nigel had no hesitation in booking passages. The itinerary of the Menelaos, taking in so many islands whose very name had the ring of legend, sounded altogether admirable. Clare’s dark eyes lit up when he told her where they would be going. Nigel felt no premonition that this itinerary would carry him into a labyrinth of human motives darker and more complex than the dwelling of the minotaur.
The passengers – fewer than a hundred – turn out to be a rather interesting mixed bag. There seem to be a surprising number of existing – and entangled – relationships to cause some pretty serious problems early on. There’s a widow, who appears to be the center of attraction for many of the men on the cruise – including the cruise director. There’s the widow’s sister, a schoolteacher, recovering from a nervous breakdown which – she says – led to her being fired from her job. There’s a traveling lecturer, who is going to be seriously embarrassed during his lectures by that former schoolteacher. There is a young brother-and-sister couple with their own reasons for hating that schoolteacher, and they may be seeking revenge. There’s a truly awful child who insists on trying to worm private secrets out of the other passengers and keeping track of their responses in a little notebook – and there’s a blackmailer on board as well. There are all kinds of relationships, including a number of what we’ll politely call “shipboard romances” going on. And, eventually, there will be murder. And Nigel Strangeways – who has been working rather furiously (if not very effectively) at trying to head off such a disaster finds himself in charge of a shipboard investigation, as the Menelaos steams towards Athens and the nearest police authorities. His goal: to solve the murder before the police begin their investigations.
Nicholas Blake handles all this beautifully, and his plot contains enough complications and surprise twists to keep readers thoroughly entertained. The book appears to be in print; for those who prefer, there is an e-book edition and an audio version as well. I don't anticipate running into anything like this on my cruise to Canada.
[Updated to add link to podcast]