First published 1941; cover shown is the 1954 Penguin Books (UK) paperback edition.
Nigel Strangeways, amateur detective, is summoned to Easterham Manor in the middle of winter. Easterham is the family home of the Restoricks, and it is Elizabeth "Betty" Restorick that is the cause for concern. A close friend and neighbour of the family, Clarissa Cavendish, senses something is terribly wrong and asks her cousin Georgia and her husband Nigel to visit.
They dine with the family and their assorted guests on the first night, and Nigel becomes highly curious when not only does Betty not appear for dinner, but her friends and family seem very uncomfortable speaking about her. Nigel's wish to meet Betty herself is in vain: the next morning he is hastily ushered into her bedroom, where a nude Betty is hanging from the rafters, her peaceful, smiling face carefully made up.
The apparent suicide is quickly revealed to be murder, and Nigel commences his investigations alongside Detective-Inspector Blount of Scotland Yard. Nigel uncovers Betty's sad past, which includes teenage drug addiction and pregnancy. One of the guests staying at Easterham is a Dr Bogan, who had been treating Betty for her latest and final addiction: cocaine. Another guest, novelist Will Dykes, is adamant he was engaged to Betty. Clues and red herrings pop up all over the place: a fibre from Dykes' dressing gown has been planted in Betty's bedroom, someone tips cyanide into the breakfast milk, papers are mysteriously burnt in Bogan's room.
Nigel and Scotland Yard are no closer to uncovering the mystery when something happens that surely has never occurred before in the history of mystery fiction. John and Priscilla Restorick, 10-year-old twins, sit at the nursery window, watching the snowman melt on the lawn below. As the snow drips off, the snowman remains standing. And he has a face - a very human face: Dr Bogan has become the next victim.
This was an interesting novel, with a good grasp of family dynamics... but it hasn't tempted me to read any more of Blake's work.
Nicholas Blake was a pseudonym of Cecil Day Lewis (1904 - 1972). Born in Ireland, he was a member of the Communist party in the 1930s, one-time poet laureate and was the father of actor Daniel Day Lewis.