Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Edmund Crispin’s Buried for Pleasure
Edmund Crispin was the pen name under which noted composer Bruce Montgomery (1921-1978) wrote crime fiction. His creation, Oxford don Gervase Fen, is one of the most charming of all fictional detectives. Fen is mildly eccentric, erudite without being obnoxious, not exactly scatter-brained but gives the appearance of moving in his own private world, and a gifted amateur detective.
This time around Professor Fen has made the curious decision to enter politics. Having no real interest in politics he stands as an independent candidate in a by-election. His campaign takes him to the village of Sanford Angelorum. The village, indeed the whole district, is in an uproar over the escape of a lunatic from the local asylum. The asylum is located in Sanford Hall. The present Lord Sanford is an enthusiastic socialist so he’s turned the hall over to the state and lives in the dower house on the property.
Fen is lodging in the Fish Inn, and the denizens of this public house are so eccentric that you can’t help wondering how the local police are supposed to identify an escaped lunatic among so many strange and rather crazy people.
One of the other guests at the Fish Inn is an old acquaintance of Fen’s, Detective-Inspector Bussy. Bussy is unofficially investigating a case of blackmail and murder. He persuades Fen to lend him a hand and Fen is soon drawn much more deeply into the case than he expected when a second murder and then another attempted murder follow hard on the heels of the first slaying.
Crispin takes the opportunity of Fen’s election campaign not only to have a great deal of fun but also to make an impassioned attack on political enthusiasm. Fen becomes more and more convinced that politics is really all about hate and that the great strength of the British political system in the past had been the apathy of the voters. When he makes a bizarre speech putting forth his true views on politics he makes a disturbing discovery. Instead of having the effect he’d hoped for, of ending any chances of his being elected, he has now become the front-runner in the by-election.
The plot is typical of golden age detective fiction - it’s convoluted and somewhat implausible although it has to be admitted that the clue that leads Fen to the solution is a very clever one. What distinguishes Crispin from the true golden age detective writers is his wickedly funny sense of humour. The Gervase Fen books are effective mysteries but they are also among the treasures of English literary humour.
Buried for Pleasure is an immensely entertaining romp and I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s an exquisite pleasure from beginning to end.