It’s been a while since our last Murderous Monday – apologies for skipping August’s instalment – but I will hopefully redeem myself today by bringing you a decidedly humorous and downright silly classic murder mystery by Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop. I’ve had a bit of trouble selecting a murder mystery to get stuck into recently, and after a few false starts I decided to give Crispin’s work a go, given that it has been described as both clever and funny. The Moving Toyshop is the third adventure for Oxford Professor of English Literature and hobbyist detective, Gervase Fen. I haven’t read the first two in the series, but decided to take a punt on number three, due to the intriguing blurb. Thankfully, I don’t think jumping in midflow has caused any trouble in getting to know the character of Fen at all.
But let’s get on; I’ve kept you waiting since July after all! Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
One night, Richard Cadogan, poet and would-be bon-vivant, finds the body of an elderly woman in an Oxford toyshop, and is hit on the head. When he comes to, he finds that the toyshop has disappeared and been replaced with a grocery store. A quirky and appealing mystery for fans of classic crime.
Richard Cadogan is travelling late at night to Oxford, and in an act of incredible coincidence and bad luck, wanders into a toyshop along the way (to investigate a door left open, mind) only to discover the strangled corpse of a harmless looking old lady. After being unexpectedly whacked on the head by person unknown, Cadogan awakes, escapes the vacant scene and dispatches himself to the police to report what he has seen. Upon returning to the toyshop, Cadogan is astounded to note that a grocers stands in its place. Of course, finding a grocers with no sign of a dead body causes the police to attribute Cadogan’s story to a recent blow to the head. Once Cadogan relates his story to friend Gervase Fen however, the cogs begin to turn and the two quickly become embroiled in a mystery that takes in spotted dogs, an unnaturally thin physician, a seedy solicitor and one eccentric old lady whose dying wishes seem to have led to no end of bother.
The Usual Suspects:
There is rather a closed pool of suspects in this particular hunt, and all of them relate to various nonsense poems by Edward Lear. I quite enjoyed this little twist as it was both amusing and a nice change from the usual cast of retired Colonel/disgruntled adopted child/estranged former business partner etc that usually appear in classic mysteries of this vintage.
The Hunt for the Murderer/s:
This is where Cripsin’s work really stood out from the crowd of murder mysteries that I have read. For starters, all of the witnesses and suspects in this particular story were quite incredibly verbose and forthcoming, so there wasn’t much need for intellectual puzzling over red herrings and possible clues hidden in coded speech . Also, the hunt for the murderer/s involved some hysterically funny bicycle/foot chases that were quite ridiculous but added greatly to my enjoyment of the whole affair. As well as Fen and Cadogan (and a bunch of ragtag hangers on, Wilkes being my decrepit favourite) chasing the suspects, the police are chasing Fen and Cadogan and it all becomes quite silly but I did appreciate the action.
Four poison bottles for the breathless anticipation of an unexpected bequeathing of extreme riches
I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure because while it has all the hallmarks of a classic English murder mystery, it never takes itself too seriously and there are plenty of light-hearted shenanigans to bump things along. Crispin has a way with vividly amusing imagery – I’m still giggling at the image of a withered old professor sitting on Fen’s knee during an overcrowded car ride – and I will certainly be putting the others in this series on my reading list. I suspect that these books would be the perfect choice for those times when you feel like a murder mystery, but don’t want to have to work too hard at figuring out who did what to whom for what reasons.
Until next time,