While other late-period entries like The Worm of Death (1961) and The Sad Variety (1964) can't seem to shake a sort of era-emanating nihilism (which likely mirrored poet Cecil Day-Lewis's worldview as he pushed forward into his 60s during the 1960s), End of Chapter is a return to a simpler time and genre style. The story and its revelations are sufficiently twisty to keep the reader engaged, and Blake makes the rare but rewarding choice to stage Millicent Miles' murder from the (unidentified) killer's perspective. As we are allowed to be a witness to the act, Nigel's uncovering of clues at the crime scene pays double dividends: we think we know how and why the murderer staged the crime in this particular way, and yet Strangeways discovers multiple details that let him see through the subterfuge.
And although the doomed romance novelist and manipulator of lovers and colleagues is an unlikable figure, she is also a fully delineated character, one who manages to impact anyone in her orbit. This definition is in noted contrast to the unfortunate victim at the center of 1941's The Case of the Abominable Snowman; where that mystery was muted for me because Elizabeth Restorick was never really allowed to be understood as a character, Millicent Miles gives End of Chapter a weighted, impressive center.
Miles' disaffected son Cyprian Gleed – such a Dickensian moniker! – is another well-observed and pitiable creation, a young man who disdains his mother and loathes the establishment to which she and other successful adults belong. There is a beautifully observed moment that, like a good writer or detective, uses the details of setting to inform characterization:
There were unwashed cups, plates and wine glasses everywhere; sheets of music on the floor; encyclopedia volumes on an elegant harpsichord in one corner; a dusty easel in another; a single ski and, rather oddly, a pair of boxing gloves hanging from a nail, in a third corner. An open door revealed the bedroom, an unmade bed with a woman's nightdress dangling from it, and a breakfast tray half concealed by a heap of clothes on the floor. These fragments he has shored against his ruin, thought Nigel, feeling a little sorry for Millicent Miles' son.
... Nigel gazed round the fantastic room again, so deeply occupied with his own thoughts that, when Cyprian Gleed asked, "Well, do you like my flat?" he uttered without premeditation what was in his mind:
"It looks like a museum of false starts."
Only a few nominal disappointments are to be found within its pages, such as a noisily telegraphed murder attempt on our intrepid detective; otherwise, End of Chapter is a largely successful literary effort from a strong writer and poet who hasn't quite gotten bored with the process of mystery puzzle construction.
Reviews from Nick Fuller and The Puzzle Doctor are also online.