Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Edmund Crispin The Case of the Gilded Fly

Edmund Crispin The Case of the Gilded Fly
First published in 1944
Type: Talented amateur
The Detective: Professor Gervase Fen, Professor of English Language and Literature, Oxford University

This is the first in a series of nine novels featuring the exploits of Gervase Fen, a sometimes arrogant and overbearing sleuth, at times reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes. In addition, several of his earlier "cases" are referred to. However, unlike Holmes, Fen is noted for dropping obscure Latin and Shakespearean allusions, some of which are even appropriate. He also lacks Holmes' scientific background and a Watson. Like Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey and Allingham's Campion, Fen has a friend in the local police establishment, but he lacks a butler.

The novel follows the classic format. The characters are introduced, and in this novel, it soon becomes clear who the victim will be. She is universally hated by one and all, so there's no problem in identifying the suspects: they are everyone who comes in contact with her. We then follow Fen about as he questions the suspects and insists to one and all that he knows the murderer, or at least, knows enough about the murderer to be able to solve the case shortly. There are the usual red herrings, and two more deaths occur to muddy the waters a bit. And, at the end, Fen provides the obligatory explanation for his admirers.

One secondary character, and one I hope will appear in later works, is Sir Richard Freeman, Chief Constable of Oxford, who is an interesting companion for Fen. Fen is a professor of literature at Oxford who solves crimes as a hobby, while Freeman is a high-ranking police officer whose avocation is producing works of literary criticism. To date, he has published critical studies of Shakespeare, The Bible, and Chaucer.

Fen and Freeman "would sit for hours expounding fantastic theories about each other's work, and developing a fine scorn for each other's competence, and where detective stories, of which Fen was an avid reader, were concerned, they frequently nearly came to blows, since Fen would insist, maliciously but with some truth, that they were the only form of literature which carried on the true tradition of the English novel, while Sir Richard poured out his fury on the ridiculous problems which they presented and the even more ridiculous methods used in solving them." The relationship between them could provide the "buddy" atmosphere that the butlers and Watsons furnish other detectives.

I enjoyed the work, in spite of a few quibbles. The exact location of the murderer at a crucial moment was not very clear to me. Secondly, while this did not involved a "closed room" scenario, it was close enough to squeeze into that category. Therefore, the explanation of how the murder was committed tended to stretch the boundaries of believability a bit.

Overall Rating: definitely a series which I will explore in the future.

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