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Book Note: Edmund Crispin, The Case of the Gilded Fly

I read this book about 5-Sep-2001. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1954. This note was last modified Saturday, 03-May-2014 08:23:43 PDT.

This is book 1 of the "Gervase Fen" series.

This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.


I've never read him before. Some discussion on the net suggested I might like him. He's supposedly quirky and literate, which are often good for me. His setting is also contemporary with Dorothy Sayers' novels. I guess we'll see how it goes. He shows up in the ISFDB, but it's all introductions so far as I can tell; he must be friendly to the SF field, but he doesn't seem to have written in it.

"Edmund Crispin" is, incidentally, a pseudonym of Bruce Montgomery (the copyright is held in that name, so it's not intended as a secret).

I believe this is the first of the Gervase Fen books, but it's hard to be sure from the packaging. The only clear clue is in a cover quote.

Well, it's certainly quirky. He has fun throwing around rare vocabulary, but the copy-editing is bad enough that sometimes it trips itself. The (amateur) detective, Gervase Fen, shows signs of knowing he's a character in a book, though not consistently (I suppose he should be able to tell, he's a lit prof at Oxford). Solving crimes is his passion. His friend, something in the police hierarchy, has a passion for English literature, and has published books on it, well regarded in the popular press. They're friends still, anyway.

There are a large number of interesting characters. The story is centered around the rehearsal and production of the world premiere of a play by a famous playwright, who is premiering this play in the Oxford repertory theater because his last London production bombed. So the acting company and a small bit of the tech company form an important part of the cast of the book. Oh, the book is set during WWII.

The first victim (we're told very early that there will be three deaths among the cast of characters introduced, so this isn't a spoiler) doesn't seem to have bene liked by very many people. Most of them ask wistfully if it's really necessary to find the killer.

Fen solves mysteries by thinking about them. Mostly it's obvious to him, and of course not to us. I'm not convinced it's done totally fairly, and once or twice I saw the deliberate omission of a clue detail, which always bugs me (but even Dorothy Sayers did that once; it was the style I believe). I believe he's sure what happened from about 5 minutes after he knows about the murder, in fact.

On balance, it was fun, and I'm reading another one. I don't know quite yet if they're going to become an obsession, though.

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David Dyer-Bennet