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Love Lies Bleeding

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Crispin, Edmund - Love Lies Bleeding (1948)



Review by Nick Fuller


‘Oh, Gervase, if you must write a detective-story—and far too many dons write them as it is—why not use the events of the week-end?’


‘My dear fellow, no one could possibly make a detective story out of them…’


This is another masterpiece by Crispin, who has by now adopted his own style — the prose more sophisticated and serious than before, fewer references to other writers of detective stories, and an interest in rural life — here, depicted to a marvel, as is the school setting. The plot is first-class: complicated twists and turns without incoherency, interesting clues, and a surprising killer with a very ingenious (and very apt, considering the setting) alibi. Characters — and dogs (with homicidal tendencies) — are excellent, the scene in the woods is tense and atmospheric without being either hammy or melodramatic, and the Shakespeare manuscript, Love's Labours Won, is handled in an original way. Unfortunately, well, let's just say — Love’s Labours Lost.


Fen, writing a detective story, happens to be both presenting prizes at the Speech Day, and a friend of the Headmaster. Crispin's tendency for Fen stumbling into crimes is getting more and more far-fetched — but, as Crispin pointed out in The Moving Toyshop, Fen is a fictional character.


        The timing couldn’t be worse at Castrevenford School. Brenda Boyce, a schoolgirl who is precocious in ways that are unhealthy—even potentially deadly—has gone missing. So have some dangerous chemicals from the school’s science lab. These incidents just before Castrevenford’s annual Speech Day.

        To make matters worse, the bodies of two masters, Somers and Love, are found. Both men have been murdered. Still later, the body of slovenly Mrs. Bly, a woman who lives in the country nearby, is discovered by a clerk on a walking tour vacation.

        Are the events ill-timed random occurrences, or are they connected? (If you can’t answer that question, you’ve clearly never read a traditional whodunit.)

        Fortunately for the local, inexperienced Superintendent Stagge, Oxford Professor of English and amateur sleuth Gervase Fen, a friend of Castrevenford’s headmaster, is on hand to present Speech Day awards. Stagge is grateful for his assistance.

        It doesn’t take too long before Fen discovers what connects Brenda’s disappearance and the three murders: a lost literary treasure of enormous scholarly and financial value. He knows rather quickly who the murderer is, too, but in accordance with classic tradition, won’t reveal the name until he has conclusive proof.

        Edmund Crispin (real name Bruce Montgomery) was one of mystery fiction’s most literate producers. (You might want to have a good dictionary close by for when you encounter words like ferial, resipiscently, unhouseled, and irrefragable.) He was a skilled plotter, and had a knack for creating wildly colorful characters. Love Lies Bleeding has a solid enough plot, but I found it, on the whole, to be a disappointment. Most of the characters are mere names on the page; they don’t come to life as individuals, and they and the novel’s overall tone lack the expansive extravagance I’ve come to expect from Crispin. Even Fen’s explanation of the solution and how he arrived at it felt plodding and tedious.

        I can recommend this one to readers already familiar with Crispin via livelier works such as The Moving Toyshop, Buried for Pleasure, Swan Song, and The Case of the Gilded Fly. If you’re new to his work, this probably isn’t the place to start.


—Barry Ergang, March 2008



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