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The Case of the Gilded Fly

Page history last edited by Jon 10 years, 5 months ago

Crispin, Edmund - The Case of the Gilded Fly / Obsequies at Oxford (1944)



Review by Nick Fuller


After due contemplation of all Crispin's work, I have come to the conclusion that Crispin's first novel is in fact his most successful, even if it his not his most ingenious, detective novel. For one thing, it is in the traditional manner, and very well-written, well-plotted, and very witty. The form is juvenilia — a young writer trying to discover what he is doing, and, as such, lacks the originality of the later works; but the characters are more identifiable than in other Crispin novels, and the murderer (and all the suspects) is prominently in the foreground.


Professor Fen is introduced in this story — an absent-minded, eccentric, and intuitive man, with the same initials as Gideon Fell. However, unlike Fell, he is arrogant and obnoxious; yet, like Fell, he is completely loveable. His detection here consists principally of working out the complicated alibi mechanism (similar to Carr's The Peacock Feather Murders, and owing too much to chance - would two men have sat listening to Wagner with the windows open on an October evening during the black-out?), and thus the killer's identity. Both are well-hidden, especially the gimmick—on re-reading the book, I remembered the killer's identity and motive (the motive is less important than the who and the how), but not the how.


Crispin is interested in maximalist plotting: he manages to interweave a cunning dying-message anecdote into the story, a simultaneous parody of Carr and M.R. James; and he has great joy in introducing Wilkes and his monkeys, who copulate instead of writing Shakespeare; and the bald parrot in the bar is funny.


Despite some obvious flaws, a first-class tale.


See also http://apenguinaweek.blogspot.com/2011/11/penguin-no-988-case-of-gilded-fly-by.html


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