The man didn't have an enemy in the world, and even his music was inoffensive: could he have fallen afoul of a nest of German spies or of the local coven of witches, ominously rumoured to have been practising since the 17th century?
©1946 Rights Limited, a Chorion company; (P)2008 Isis Publishing Ltd
"I love this tale with its black magic and atmosphere of learning and decay." (John Betjeman)
"I very much enjoy Edmund Crispin, who's extremely frivolous, with a marvellous comic sense." (P. D. James)
"Beneath a formidable exterior he had unsuspected depths of frivolity." (Philip Larkin)
I LOVE the Gervase Fen novels - I only wish there had been more and that there were more of them on Audible. Stephen Thorne does a fabulous job of narrating. If you have never met Gervase, you owe it to yourself to get that introduction.
Like Wodehouse, Edmund Crispin's novels seem so blissfully effortless that it is only on re-reading that the craft becomes apparent. I was thrilled to find this old friend on Audible and I have thoroughly enjoyed the performance given by the narrator. In Holy Disorders, Crispin uses comedy as the velvet glove to conceal the iron fist of the plot: it is 1939 after all, and everyone is keeping an eye out for enemy agents. But given that the Devon cathedral town is chiefly known for witchburning, perhaps something more eldritch is in play? The comedy is the chief attraction, though, it reaches heights of glorious silliness that only a well-educated mind can concoct. The scene where two amateur detectives are attempting to grill a suspect but keep quoting Poe at each other is a gem, as is Fen's response when asked the name of the knot he has proposed would allow a murderer to ascend a height and then climb back down and take his rope away with him. It is, says Fen, "called the hook, line and sinker, because that's what the reader will have to swallow". This isn't a book for people who demand a patina of Seriousness in their mysteries, but for people who love playful erudition it is a major treat.
Love fiction--classic to light, serious to comedic. Selective non-fiction. These days lots of mysteries (not too violent, please :-)
Here is a book that was written in the 40's (either during, or just following WWII), taking place in Oxford, England. Gervase Fen (a Don and sometimes-sleuth) has asked his friend Jeffry Vintner, an organist, to replace another organist who has been killed there. Even on his way to arrive, Vintner quickly finds himself in danger--in a store, on the train, and continuing through the book, since it is thought that he has knowledge wanted by those unknown others who have their own agenda. The story moves forward as Fen and Vintner work to find out who is behind all this.
This is a decent and well-paced mystery--but the book itself is far more than that. It would be very easy to misunderstand it, as it is filled with an almost farcical, tongue-in-cheek sort of humor which seems to make gentle fun of the pomposity of speech and manners of the stuffy academic/clergy, and has lots of fun literary allusions. In one place, even the name of another popular detective is used (Appleby--by Michael Innes, who wrote about the same time). To take this book too seriously would, I think, be to misunderstand it's intent.
One must decide whether it is possible to accept that the mindset of the times (or at least this book or author) is somewhat demeaning of women (a 15 year old girl is spanked by her father--and it all seems to be acceptable behavior there). In a contemporary book I would be screaming about that, and I'm sure there were many people then who had far more tolerant and advanced ideas. But I wondered if that might also have been a part of the way the author seemed to be having fun with this pretentious group of people, for the sake of the story.
Take this book for what it is (or perhaps what it was)--which is written as a good mystery, which also seems to point out some of the perceived self-importance (at least in the author's eyes) of a group of men who were immersed in academia to the point of being out-of-touch with much else around them. (After all, there were in this book, a couple of young men who were not at war--with only the barest of explanations for how they had evaded that calling). It puts me in mind of the Jeeves and Wooster series (PG Wodehouse), though less laugh-out-loud funny than that.
If you like that style of writing, you will probably enjoy this book. If you enjoy just reading the old classic mysteries, to have a feel for how the genre was developed, this is also a good read.
Crispin's writing style is superbly witty and his sentences are so effectively put-together that one feels cleverer and more intelligent just for listening. And the level of knowledgeable detail for all aspects of the characters' interests and idiosyncrasies--butterfly-catching, church and organ music, English literature, the Anglican Church--assures the reader that Crispin was one of those supremely well-educated English Renaissance men of the 20th century.
Even though Stephen Thorne's narration was quite successful and entertaining, I enjoyed this so much that I ordered all of the treasury editions of Crispin's mysteries. I hate to miss one (I'm a reader who likes to go in order) and Audible is missing some of the novels.
Crispin's superb Gervase Fen books deserve a much wider audience, and I hope this is only the first in a full series of readings. Stephen Thorne is the perfect choice of narrator, and this fun, spooky, intriguing book was an absolute pleasure to listen to. More, please, and then how about a bit of John Dickson Carr to follow? Oh go on...
"witty and entertaining"
If you like your detective fiction to have a certain 'academic' leaning, Edmund Crsip always provides it in his absent minded Oxbridge heros - the reading complements the style here and will appeal to followers of Dorothy Sayers etc
"Not his best"
I do hope Audible add some more Edmund Crispin as his creation Gervase Fen is a wonderfully eccentric and exasperating detective. This however, whilst gripping and full of twists, is not his finest hour. When written doubtless the plot was novel. To a modern audience, however, the early hint as to the motive falls with a deafening clang and I found the ending unconvincing. That said, I did enjoy it on the whole. It is well written and Stephen Thorne's narration is perfect.
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