A company has gathered to produce Wagner’s Die Meistersinger at the Oxford Opera House, not remotely put off by the fact that such a place never existed, – sorry, attack of the pedant there, but it is Oxford. Sorry, I’ll start again.
A company has gathered to produce Wagner’s Die Meistersinger at the Oxford Opera House, the first performance of the German opera in the UK since the war. The excitement is soon cut short, however, when the odious Edwin Shorthouse is given the leading role. Nobody seems to like the man, but did anyone hate him enough to murder him?
When Shorthouse is found hanged inside his locked dressing room, the first assumption is suicide but Gervase Fen has other ideas. As tensions mount and a second death occurs, it seems that nobody in the company is safe…
Edmund Crispin wrote nine mystery novels and two collections of short stories featuring Gervase Fen, his academic sleuth. The Moving Toyshop is his most lauded piece, although personally I think it’s over-rated with a disappointing solution to the central problem. Swan Song, however, the book that followed it is, in my opinion, a much more accomplished piece of work.
You may argue that maybe the locked room murder method is over-complex (although I can show you many more elaborate such methods), you may argue that the overall picture is not unique (I can think of at least one example that predates this book) but it’s always a hard trick to spot. But these would be nitpicking, not real criticisms.
Crispin does clue the reveal, although I seriously doubt that anyone will spot the clues. Crispin’s text and dialogue is wonderful (with the exception of the Jewish character who would not have been written that way today) and there is a plot point that provides a marvelous misdirection.
All in all, I think this is the most complete Crispin mystery that I’ve read – The Case Of The Gilded Fly, Fen’s debut is the next best – and all in all, a very satisfying read.
Good news – Edmund Crispin’s books are rarely out of print, with the most recent re-issue coming from Collins – so if you haven’t read this one, do take a look.