The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

The Moving ToyshopRichard Cadogan, a somewhat frustrated poet, heads to Oxford to avoid his publisher. As he walks down the Iffley Road, he comes across a toyshop with the backdoor open. Entering the establishment, he finds the strangled body of an old woman and receives a hefty blow on the head. Staggering to the college of his old acquaintance, Professor Gervase Fen, they return in the morning to find not only has the body vanished, so has the shop itself, to be replaced with a greengrocers. Soon after, the toyshop is located – spirited wholesale halfway across the city.

With no suspects and no scene of the crime, your average investigator might give up, but Fen throws himself into the investigation. But with the police after Cadogan, can Fen stay one step ahead of the law and still catch himself a murderer?

And so my month of reviews of Golden Age books draws to a close. After Tragedy At Law, one of the CWA Best 100 Mystery Novels Ever, disappointed me somewhat, I thought I’d go for another from the same list. The Moving Toyshop is often cited as being Edmund Crispin’s masterpiece – but Tragedy At Law was Cyril Hare’s masterpiece and look what happened there…

Farce. That’s probably the best word to describe the style of this one. I used the same word to describe The Bat recently, but as we tear around the city of Oxford with Fen, shoplifting, chasing a woman simply because she has a dalmatian, wrestling with suspects in Parsons’ Pleasure – non-Oxfordians might have to look that one up – this has the hallmarks of an old-style caper. And let’s not forget that there are some massive coincidences.

In fact, the plot is pretty damn ludicrous. The plot behind the toyshop is absolutely ridiculous and makes no sense whatsoever. We’re back in the world of insane clauses in wills, giving a little symmetry to the month, but the plan to take advantage of the insane clause is so unworkable… but that’s kind of the point, given the tone of the story. I will credit Crispin with one thing – once he gets his list of suspects sorted out (quite late in the book) I was impressed that he then played fair by having one of them being the killer, rather than introducing yet another character, or providing a random motive for one of the support players.

So, this should have annoyed me as much as Tragedy At Law, yes? Afraid not. Just as my lack of interest in the legal profession made the background to that deeply uninteresting, being an Oxford alumnus made this book come to life. Add in the fact that Crispin’s sense of humour (not always his strongest point) really sparkles in this one, and it’s a great read. I think this, combined with Tragedy At Law, just goes to show how much personal taste can influence a reviewer. There are so many problems with the mystery that I really should be much harsher on this one, but it’s a really fun read and, as such, it’s Recommended.


  1. Glad you (somewhat) enjoyed it, PD. There are other Crispin books I like better – Swan Song, for example – but Toyshop is a lot of fun and most of the humor works. And, of course, there’s that wonderful final scene – which Hitchcock used, practically unchanged, in his movie of Highsmith’s “Strangers on a Train.” It leaves me wishing there were more Crispins waiting to be read.


  2. I think it’s a shame that Crispin is usually represented by The Moving Toyshop. It’s an enjoyable read, and Fen is one of my all-time favourite characters, but the farcical elements have to be taken with a pinch of salt, and I have trouble with the moving toyshop itself. I think he did much better in Buried for Pleasure and Love Lies Bleeding.

    Did you enjoy your classic mystery month overall?


  3. I usually have a bit of trouble remembering the plot of this one but have no trouble remembering the jokes and the sense of fun – I agree that BURIED FOR PLEASURE, SWAN SONG or LOVE LIES BLEEDING may offer better narratives overall. A classic of its kind though, at least for me.


  4. I’ve read Frequent Hearses, but even after reading the blurb I can’t remember much about it. It’s set in a film studio, which I guess Crispin knew a lot about from his day job.


  5. I attempted to read this book but gave up half-way because I was turned off by the farcical writing style (the same reason I did not like The Bat). I then skimmed through the book and read the end. I agree that the plot is ridiculous. The plot of Tragedy At Law is much, much better.


    • I’d say that the plot of Tragedy At Law makes more logical sense, but it’s nowhere near as interesting as The Moving Toyshop. As for better… I personally think Toyshop is a better read as I enjoyed it a lot more than Tragedy, but both plots are seriously flawed and neither is the classic that they are made out to be. By the way, you posted the same comment twice, so I’ve deleted one copy of it.


      • OK. You enjoyed The Moving Toyshop, but I did not enjoy it. You did not enjoy Tragedy At Law, but I enjoyed it. What does this show? Simply that opinions vary from person to person. However, I agree that both are not the classics they are made out to be.


  6. Great to see a post on the underrated Crispin. I agree with what you say here – farce is definitely a good word to describe this novel! Did you know the rumour that Philip Larkin (who knew Crispin/Montgomery at Oxford) contributed some lines to this novel? He later distanced himself from it and denied it, though he was never too impressed with Crispin’s novels, I don’t think…

    By the way, I think ‘Oxonians’ is technically the name for residents of Oxford – Oxfordians are those who think the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays (if I remember aright)…


  7. I’ll really like to read this one, often cited as one of the best locked room / impossible crime novel.
    Unfortunately there are only two novels translated into french: Frequent Hearse and Case of the gilded fly. I’ve just finished the case of the gilded fly and it was a good one, well-written, good pace and a solid (but classic) solution to the locked room problem. Very enjoyable!


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