If Sarah Caudwell's Thus Was Adonis Murdered, first published in 1981, really is a Forgotten Book - and to be honest, I am not sure it is - then it definitely should not be. This was one of the most striking debut novels of classic detection to have appeared in the past half-century, with dashes of Christie and Wodehouse, but most of all a distinctive flavour all of Sarah's own.
I borrowed a library hardback edition shortly after the book was first published, and (a terrible confession - the only mitigation is my then youth) I found the mannered style of the opening pages bemusing. I didn't get very far with it, but a year or so later, I tried again, and was I glad I persevered! It's a remarkable book, witty and ingenious with an elaborate plot. Re-reading it again very recently, I found that not only had I forgotten the mystery, but I was also bamboozled all over again by Sarah's craftiness.
The action switches between London's Lincoln Inn and Venice, wonderfully atmospheric and contrasting settings, brilliiantly and playfully evoked. The glamorous but scatty barrister Julia Larwood goes off on an art lover's holiday, and finds herself an attractive young man whose only failing is that he works for the Inland Revenue. However, her success in seducing him is tempered when the news is broken to her that her lover has been murdered, and that she is the prime suspect. Professor Hilary Tamar, aided and abetted by Julia's colleagues, does some clever sleuthing to come up with the solution to the mystery. It really is so well done.
Sarah Caudwell is one of those writers who belonged in spirit to the Golden Age. Other examples include V.C. Clinton-Baddeley, and Peter and Antony Shaffer (who wrote three lovely classic mysteries in the Fifties before finding fame in the theatre). I define the Golden Age of detective fiction as the period between the two wars, but a number of later writers have adopted the Golden Age style successfully. And Sarah Caudwell was one of the very best. The prose style won't appeal to everyone, and as I say, I didn't "get it" straight away. But once you embrace Sarah's curious world, you find yourself rewarded with rich and civilised entertainment. And having reread her recently, I'll be saying more about her soon.