Thursday, 21 July 2011
Edmund Crispin was the pen name of Bruce Montgomery, an organist and composer who, aside from some well-respected classical works, provided scores for the first six Carry On films. As a writer, he specialised in classic crime stories, always brilliantly solved by his eccentric English Professor / Amateur Detective Gervase Fen.
Starting with the basic form of a ‘whodunnit’, Crispin delights in wringing out every twist and turn of plot available to him – his stories are complex, fast moving, full of co-incidences and, quite often, concluded in a quite illogical and slightly preposterous way. His tone is arch and ironic throughout, and he gleefully mucks about with literary conventions, satirising the mystery story (Fen, on his way to the Police, says ‘if there's anything I hate, it's the sort of book in which the characters don't go to the police when they've no earthly reason for not doing so’.) and filling his stories with references, allusions and quotations that only he and Gervase Fen are guaranteed to get. I realise that makes him sound like a smartarse but the fact is that he most definitely is a smartarse (or was – he died in 1978) but, here at ‘Mounds & Circles’ that’s an entry requirement so no slight is intended.
Recommended: ‘The Case of the Gilded Fly’ is perhaps the best place to start, being the first of the Gervase Fen stories, it’s also a nice variation on the standard locked room murder mystery. ‘Where Love Lies Bleeding’ prefigures a hundred Dan Brown rip offs by centering the mystery around a lost Shakespearean manuscript; ‘The Moving Toyshop’ is a frantic and fun chase around Oxford in search of the titular emporium and its upstairs corpse.