Edmund Crispin's first novel

Posted by Helen Monday, April 09, 2012 , ,

I am trying to create some order among my various collections of books, particularly those that come into the category of detective fiction. After a couple of days of intermittent work I have managed to put in order all the A to C ones though I keep finding ones that were hidden in piles on the stairs. On the whole I did very little re-reading in the process but have emerged with the certain knowledge that I need to go through Edmund Crispin's novels again. (I did re-read the two collections of short stories but that did not take long).

I started with the first one, The Case of the Gilded Fly, published in 1944 when Crispin (real name Bruce Montgomery) was still an undergraduate at Oxford. It is not as good as some of the subsequent ones and I had to go back several times to work out what happened on which day. There is also a longish phony ghost story that is only marginally relevant to the plot and could have been condensed into a paragraph or two.

Professor Gervase Fen is in his element - the college, various pubs and the theatre where a new and brilliant play is being produced. He also has a family. Mrs Fen appears quite a lot (something I had forgotten) and the children appear once. There is even a cat. In subsequent novels Mrs Fen is referred to and the children are mentioned though the cat makes no further appearance. Mrs Fen is actually rather entertaining and provides a pleasant antidote to some of the donnish mannerisms. It is a pity Crispin decided not to have her around much later on, not even in the Oxford novels, which most of them are not.

However, my attention was taken up by something else. An important part of the plot is that two characters listen to the radio on the evening when the murder is committed and the music is rather loud. Apparently, what they listen to is the Meistersinger overture and Ein Heldenleben. Well, what is wrong with that, I hear my readers ask. Nothing except that the events of the book take place during a week in October 1940, that is the height of the Blitz. Did the BBC Third Programme really play German music during this period and not just any old German music but Wagner and Richard Strauss? It seems incredible but Bruce Montgomery was a musician and composer as well as a writer of detective stories and one would expect him to know such things.


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