From the Author's Note.
Death Under Sail was my first published novel. It was not strictly my first work, since, when I was twenty-one, I wrote a work about young men and women at a provincial university. By a wild coincidence, I happened to be a student at a provincial university at the time. This novel never got into print, fortunately for me, and no manuscript now exists.It is surprisingly adequate given that it is a first book, it is from 1932, and that Snow is a more natural essayists than novelist.
But Death Under Sail I am glad to have re-issued. I was twenty-six when I wrote it; and to myself, though not to many others, it was a signal that I proposed to give up the scientific career and take to writing novels. This had always been my intention; and now, I thought, it was about time to begin.
Why I started with a detective story is obscure to me now and would have been so at the time. I suspect I had a sense that I was one of those writers who have to nose their way among experience before they know what they are good for. Anyway, I did write a detective story, a stylized, artificial detective story very much in the manner of the day. At the time it was very well received, and I found that, having partially escaped from the scientific trap, I was being lured into another. There were all sorts of temptations put in front of me to get me to set up as a detective storywriter.
In fact, I never had any intention of writing another.They are great fun to write, but they take almost as long as a novel proper: I already knew what I wanted to do, and I also knew there would scarcely be time enough for that. If I had had another lifetime to play with, though, I should have liked to write some more detective stories. I shouldn't have gone on with the convention in which Death Under Sail was written. I should have had a shot at the real roman policier, bringing the story as near a realistic novel as I could. No one, not even Simenon, has quite done what I should like to see. I believe the field is still wide open.
It is a closed-group mystery, there can only be six suspects and it is a matter of determining which is the murderer. Echoes of The Two Cultures are there at the very beginning of his writing career. His investigator protagonist, a gentleman, Finbow, comes at his task from two directions - applying rigorous logic and empirical observation while at the same time, reconciling what he learns from that approach with his equally rigorous analysis of human psychology and foibles.
It has an artificial feel to it and as a reader I found myself as often critiquing conclusions rather than losing myself in the story-telling. For all that, it was a fun read.