Monday, June 18, 2007

Mysteries to make you laugh

Ideal summer reading is catching up on my mysteries but this weekend I really wanted some humour as well. Lucky for me that Vintage U.K. has just re-issued three of Edmund Crispin's wonderfully droll novels featuring the eccentric Oxford Professor Gervase Fen. These were written in the 1940s and 1950s and I read his most famous, The Moving Toyshop, giggling all the way through. A poet has discovered the dead body of an old woman in a toyshop at night, but when he summons the police in the morning, the corpse is gone and the toyshop has now become a grocer's. Naturally the police think he's barmy and moreso when he teams up with Prof. Fen to try and solve the case. It's ingenious and enjoyable plotting, but it will also appeal to readers who love academic satire or bookish references. When this learned duo get themselves into tight places, such as being locked up in a cupboard, they don't panic, but instead play intellectual games such as "Unreadable Books" to pass the time. Or they'll switch to "Detestable Characters in Fiction" while discussing the case in a pub. One of the suspects is even a Janeite. Give Crispin a try - he would be a wonderful author to press on fans of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series, or even of Dorothy Sayer's Gaudy Night. Two other Fen mysteries - Holy Disorders and Love Lies Bleeding have also just been re-issued.
Or for something completely different, you could try Leonie Swann's Three Bags Full, in which a flock of Irish sheep - of varying levels of intellectual ability - have to solve the case of their murdered shepherd. The humour in this one resides in how the complexities of the human world are viewed through the eyes of the sheep. Certainly one of the more original mysteries you will read this summer.

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