Edmund Crispin, in reality Robert Bruce Montgomery, wrote nine mystery novels and two short story collections featuring Gervase Fen, a crime-solving Oxford Professor of English. The finest of these is generally regarded to be The Moving Toyshop, but I’ve also seen Love Lies Bleeding and The Case of the Gilded Fly being highly rated. Can’t say that I’ve ever seen Buried for Pleasure even mentioned elsewhere, and it’s been sitting on my shelf for years without being touched, so, rather than review one of the better known works, I thought I’d see if this was an undiscovered classic. Or not.
The story concerns Fen’s trip to Norfolk in order to stand for Parliament. Whilst there, he meets an old University friend who just happens to be a policeman who is investigating a poisoning/blackmailing case. Next thing we know, the policeman has a knife in his neck and more evil-doings are afoot.
This is written with a great deal of humour, although not all of it works. At the heart of the story is a clever mystery, although one with no real surprises to anyone familiar to the genre. The clues are perhaps too heavily signposted and most of it has been done before (or since, I guess – this is from 1948) but it works. The difficulty is that there isn’t really enough mystery plot to fill even 170 pages and so Crispin fills the other half of the book with either Fen’s campaigning or Fen meeting the fairly eccentric people in the village. I’m not sure at all if some of the characters (such as the escaped madman who runs around alternately naked or believing he is Woodrow Wilson) are supposed to be genuine attempts at misdirection or just entertaining scenery. They certainly don’t work as the first, as once I’d decided on who the villain of the piece was, nothing made me doubt it, and as the second, they are diverting, but I kept glancing at my watch, so to speak, wondering how long it would be before we got back to the plot. One particular example of this is the local vicar who bangs on for a six pages about how he trained his poltergeist!
There’s also an interesting speech towards the end of Fen’s campaigning, which may be Crispin setting forth his political opinions, but to be honest, I found myself switching off as I read that.
So, to summarise, this is an entertaining piece of fluff, but nothing more. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but also nothing that would particularly offend. The mystery is fairly clued, but a bit obvious to me, but it won’t stop me giving some of Crispin’s more lauded works another try. In particular, I’ll be looking out for the short stories, as I imagine they would be less padded than this.
I’m a big fan of Crispin myself, but it’s mostly about the humour rather than the plots I suppose. Along with THE MOVING TOYSHOP I have always been very partial to the Shakesperean entry LOVE LIES BLEEDING and also HOLY DISORDERS, in which Crispin/Montgomery more or less apears as himself as a church organist. Fen incidentally doesn’t appear in some of the short stories. The first collection, BEWARE OF TRAINS is stronger than the later FEN COUNTRY, which in fact was published posthumously.
I’ve read all three of the books you mention (and no others) and do recall enjoying them – as I also recall little else about them, I might give them a go soon, especially The Moving Toyshop. Thanks for the tip about the short stories.
I’ve only read Love Lies Bleeding, and I enjoyed that. I would quite happily read more if I could find them in Penguin editions. The June 2011 edition of The Penguin Collector contains an essay on Edmund Crispin by John Bowen, and Buried for Pleasure is singled out for criticism as a story that didn’t work, with completely unbelievable rustic characters. The suggestion is that he was good when writing about things with which he was familiar (Oxford, public schools, composers), but not when he ventured wider, as with politics.
This is certainly an interesting book, but I wouldn’t call it great. Certainly worth reading though, to see how he switches, rather clumsily in my book, from murder plot to local eccentrics to politics and back again. But The Moving Toyshop is a much better advertisment for Crispin.
I’ve gradually become a fan of Crispin, though perhaps mainly for the humor. He was a fair play mystery writer, however. Love Lies Bleeding has a very clever alibi in the plot–and not one that I’ve seen anyone else use. However, I found the plot as a whole too complicated, with three murders, I think. It also has a quite suspenseful chapter near the end.
Been a long time since I read Love Lies Bleeding but I do remember enjoying it more than the other Crispin books – I’ve always found the “classic” Moving Toyshop a little overrated.
I’ve read The Moving Toyshop but don’t remember much about it–except that there was a toyshop, and it moved. That was probably the first book by Crispin I read, and it really didn’t impress me favorably. I’ll probably reread it in the near future, but there are several more by Crispin that I’ve never read that I’ll read first. I’m currently reading the short stories in Beware the Trains.