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2015 reading challenges Blast from the Past Crime Fiction Edmund Crispin Mark Bailey vintage mystery bingo gold

Frequent Hearses by Edmund Crispin (1950)

Cover of Frequent Hearses by Edmund Crsipin (1950)
Cover of Frequent Hearses by Edmund Crsipin (1950)

This is the 7th Gervase Fen novel by Edmund Crispin.

A young actress, Gloria Scott [1], drowns after throwing herself off Waterloo Bridge. The news sends shock-waves around the film studio at Long Fulton where Gervase Fen, Oxford Don and amateur criminologist, happens to be working as a consultant on a bio-pic of the life of Alexander Pope the poet ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Pope ) . With help from his friend, Inspector Humbleby, this tragic loss of young life leads them to many more dark places – Ms. Scott’s room has been searched and all signs of her real identity have been removed. Mere minutes before Humbleby interrogates her co-workers, one of them, a lecherous cameraman, is poisoned and more deaths are to follow.

This novel is set in a world that Bruce Montgomery (the real person behind the nom de plume of Edmund Crispin) knew well as a professional composer most often of film music (see http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0599736/ for a full list of the 32 films he worked on from 1949 to 1966 – 1961s Raising the Wind, a broad comedy, is an especially interesting film for fans of his novels as he wrote both the screenplay and the score for this film from the Carry On directing/producing team with a cast of classic British film comedy stars)

This does seem to be the Fen that people seem to be most divided over with some disliking it intensely – the usual criticisms are (1) the absence of the killer for most of the novel – he/she appears in person or by letter only at the beginning and end, (2) that Fen tends to stay in the background for much of the book and (3) the comedy is too much in the foreground.

Personally this is one of my favourite Fens precisely because of there is a more sophisticated level of humour than with some of the other Fen books mostly throughout (the start is a bit iffy from a humour perspective) and the fact that Fen has to act as an observer here because this is a world that is quite distinct from his usual intellectual milieu so we see what he sees. There are crimes but I am not sure it can really be classed as a pure mystery.

This is almost the end of the run of Fen novels in the 1940s and 1950s, The Long Divorce followed in 1952 along with some short short stories collected in Beware of the Trains (1953) and Fen Country (1979). One more novel appeared in 1977 – The Glimpses of the Moon – but Crispin/Montgomery turned to reviewing, editing anthologies (mostly of SF but there are 2 good Crime/Mystery anthologies) and writing Film Music (at least until the mid-1960s) – see David Whittles Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin: A Life in Music and Books for more details of his life.

 

I aim to complete my reviews of the set of Fen novels and short stories at some point in the future.

 

[1] Presumably the stage name of the actress is an homage to “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

 

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2015 reading challenges Crime Fiction Edmund Crispin Mark Bailey Reviews vintage mystery bingo gold

Buried for Pleasure by Edmund Crispin (1948)

Buried for Pleasure by Edmund Crispin
Buried for Pleasure by Edmund Crispin

In the sleepy English village of Sanford Angelorum, professor and amateur detective Gervase Fen is taking a break from his books to run for Parliament. At first glance, the village he’s come to canvass appears perfectly peaceful, but Fen soon discovers that appearances can be deceptive: someone in the village has discovered a dark secret and is using it for blackmail. Anyone who comes close to uncovering the blackmailer’s identity is swiftly dispatched.

 

This is the 6th Gervase Fen mystery by Edmund Crispin – it is not the greatest whodunnit in the series but it has a great deal of humour most of which is derived not from the investigation but from the peculiarities of English village life that Fen meets in the course of his campaigning.

Not the best of Fen but still a very engaging read especially in a time of general election campaigning when faced with the absurdity and self-importance of politicians.

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2015 reading challenges Edmund Crispin Mark Bailey vintage mystery bingo gold

Edmund Crispin – The Moving Toyshop (1946)

The Moving Toyshop is a comic crime novel by Edmund Crispin, published in 1946. The novel is the 3rd to feature the detective and Oxford don, Gervase Fen.

Richard Cadogan (a poet & friend of Gervase Fen) is struggling to write and sets off for Oxford in the middle of the night for inspiration. However he gets stranded in Didcot – he then gets a lift in a lorry to Oxford as far as the Headington roundabout and then sets off to walk into town. He gets lost and stumbles into a toyshop where he discovers a dead body.

The next morning having awoken bruised and battered by an unknown assailant he tells the police of the incident but the toyshop has vanished together with the body and there is a grocery shop in its place.

Cadogan seeks out his friend Fen (who he knows to be an amateur detective) and the two of them set out to solve this apparently non-existent crime – a quest which involves a great deal of dashing around the countryside in Fen’s sports car (Lily Christine III), sitting arguing about English literature, the gathering of a set of eccentric side-kicks and even more eccentric villains.

They end up uncovering a series of barely plausible complex happenings on their road to the truth.

 

This is one of the great comic crime novels and , in my opinion, one of the best Crime Novels full stop.

It is full of charm & high jinks, very funny at times and incredibly literate with everybody in the novel constantly quoting poetry and Jacobean drama and the fourth wall being breached on more than one occasion (my favourite is the exchange when deciding which road turning to follow – “Let’s go left”, Cadogan suggested. “After all,  Gollancz is publishing this book.” – Victor Gollancz was a left-wing inclined supporter of socialist movements commissioning such works as The Road to Wigan Pier.)

 

I am taking part in the Golden Age Card of the Vintage Mystery Bingo in 2015 (Golden Age Vintage Mysteries must have been first published before 1960) and am treating this is my L3 entry (“Read One Book with an Amateur Detective”).

It could have been taken as L5 (“Read One Academic Mystery”), G4 (“Read One Locked Room or Impossible Mystery”), D6 (“Author whose first or last name begins with the same letter as yours” – Edmund Crispin was really Bruce Montgomery so MB reversed) or N2 (“Read One Book with a Place in the Title” – Toyshop)

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Adrian McKinty Cath Staincliffe Christopher Fowler Crime Fiction Edmund Crispin Euro Crime Helene Tursten Ian Rankin Jo Nesbø John Harvey Mark Bailey Martin Edwards Peter James Peter Robinson Reviews W J Burley Year-End Review

Year-End Review: 2012

Of the new releases in 2012 (either in paperback or hardback), I would strongly recommend (in alphabetical order by author as I don’t want to choose an order)

  • Fowler, Christopher – BRYANT & MAY AND THE INVISIBLE CODE (10th novel about Arthur Bryant, John May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit – another strong Bryant & May novel with a very intricate plot with lots of twists and turns; some new characters (some of which are almost fantastical) are introduced to set up for the future which he has got a 2 book deal for starting with BRYANT & MAY AND THE BLEEDING HEART).
  • James, Peter – NOT DEAD YET (8th Detective Superintendent Roy Grace novel)
  • Nesbo, Jo – THE BAT (the 1st Harry Hole novel chronologically – it was nice to see the back plot to the later novels explored in more depth)
  • Rankin, Ian – STANDING IN ANOTHER MAN’S GRAVE (Rebus is back – I read it in a day and loved it)
  • Robinson, Peter – BEFORE THE POISON (not a DCI Banks book but it takes the well-used idea of somebody becoming obsessed with solving a decades-old murder and executes it very well)

 

Other 2012 releases that had good points were

  • McKinty, Adrian – THE COLD COLD GROUND (the 1st Sean Duffy novel set in 1980s Northern Ireland; yes I am biased as I go past most of the places in this novel on my train to work every day but this is an assured police procedural in the main – the next book (I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET) is just out as I write and if it is just a tad better then that is one of my 2013 best reads sorted)
  • Staincliffe, Cath  – DEAD TO ME  (the 1st Scott and Bailey tie-in novel by Cath Staincliffe; yes this is a tv tie-on but it captures the characters and is compellingly written)
  • Tursten, Helene – NIGHT ROUNDS (the 4th Irene Huss novel; this is a good novel but I have seen the first 6 Swedish TV movie adaptions so I spoilt it for myself).
  • Wanner, Len – THE CRIME INTERVIEWS VOLUMES ONE AND TWO (These are available most easily for Kindles but if you like tartan noir, they are a good insight into how authors minds work as they have interviews with 19 crime writers between the two volumes)

 

‘Blasts from the past’ series reread or read for the first time in 2012 are

  • Crispin, Edmund – the Gervase Fen series (I re-read these in the Summer. They are whodunit novels with complex plots written in a humorous, literary style with references to English literature, poetry, and music; my favourites are THE MOVING TOYSHOP (1946) and FREQUENT HEARSES (1950) – it is a crying shame that Crispin went 25 years between the penultimate and the last novel in the series).
  • Burley, W J – the Wycliffe series (I remember the tv series with Jack Shepherd well and recently bought them on DVD but had never read the books; yes they are dated and even the later ones read like those written in the 1970s (they were 22 written from 1968 to 2000) but they are also tightly plotted concisely written books with a great sense of place and a complex main character)
  • Edwards, Martin – the Lake District Mystery series (these were a new read for me and as said elsewhere on the website these are very classy page turners with a good sense of history and the area it is set in – the English Lake District)
  • Harvey. John – the Charlie Resnick series (I am just over halfway through re-reading this quality police procedural series set in Nottingham in the late 1980s and 1990s in the main – the last one was published a decade later in 2008)

 

Again, they reflect in the main my liking for police procedurals.