Monday, January 11, 2010

Literary laughter with a bit of murder thrown in. . .

If you are looking for some light, literary murder and mayhem to get you through the long, January nights then you need to immediately start reading the mysteries of Edmund Crispin. Just try not to laugh! Vintage U.K. has been bringing his marvellous books - originally written in the 1940s and early 1950s - back into print (three more came out last November). They feature eccentric (is there any other kind?) Oxford professor Gervase Fen and though the plots are completely crazy and improbable, you forgive him everything because the wonderful, frequently literary, repartee that dazzles the pages is just so enjoyable. These books are quite simply scrumptious. I blogged a while ago here about his most famous mystery The Moving Toyshop, and now I've just read the very first Gervase Fen book The Case of the Gilded Fly.

It's an absolute delight. The first chapter starts by introducing all our main characters and suspects who are all en route to Oxford to take part in the production of an important new play, but are currently stuck on a slow moving train from London. The chapter ends omniously: "And within the week that followed three of these eleven died by violence." The first victim is Yseult Haskell a beautiful but bitchy actress, the former lover of the playwright, and hated by almost the entire cast. When she is found shot not very far from Fen's own college rooms, he is inevitably - and gleefully - on the spot to start investigating. Part of the fun is the constant banter between Fen and his friend Sir Richard Freeman, Chief Constable of Oxford. The latter fancies himself as much of a literary critic (and has actually published three books) as the former believes himself to be a detective. The two love to tell each other how to do their jobs.

P.D. James is a huge fan and highlights Crispin in her recent book Talking About Detective Fiction. She calls the character of Gervase Fen a "true original" who "romps through his cases with infectious joie de vivre in books which are genuinely very funny" and notes that the books, "are always elegantly written with a cast of engaging, witty characters. . . Crispin is a farceur, and the ability successfully to combine this less-than-subtle humour with murder is very rare in detective fiction."

I couldn't agree with her more. Six of the nine Crispin books are now available. In addition to the two mentioned above, there is Holy Disorders, Swan Song, Love Lies Bleeding, and Buried for Pleasure. P.G. Wodehouse meets Dorothy Sayers -just the comic tonic to take us through to spring.

1 comment:

Frances said...

You're always tempting me with releases from Canada or the UK that I cannot easily lay my hands on. These I will have to dig up somewhere though. Can't remember the last time a mystery sounded so appealing to me. Many thanks.