Wednesday 26 June 2013

Edmund Crispin's Classic

I first came across the work of Edmund Crispin as a teenager, and I vividly remember reading The Moving Toyshop at school when I was about fourteen. I'd borrowed it from the town library, and took it in with me to while away dull moments in between lessons. The book had a map of Oxford, a city which I'd never visited, and never dreamed that I would get to know well. I really enjoyed the story, and acquired my own copy of the book many years later. But for some reason I've not got round to re-reading it until now.

There are a couple of reasons why I returned to The Moving Toyshop. First, I've been asked to talk to visiting crime writers from overseas about Oxford detectives at a conference in a couple of months' time and I felt I'd better do some homework. Second, I attended a talk given by Susan Moody at Crimefest on the subject of Oxford detective stories. Susan's enthusiasm made me think it was time to go back to Crispin.

I'm glad I did. The Moving Toyshop is tremendous fun, light-hearted and with an unusual, if occasionally eccentric plot that makes use of a very interesting legal device, the secret trust. The early chapters are quite dazzling and there are some memorable characters, including a very dodgy solicitor, and lots of witty lines. Gervase Fen, the amiable English don, leads the chase for the person who killed Miss Tardy in the toyshop..

Of course, in a high-spirited book like this, it is not easy to maintain tension throughout, and there are moments when farce predominates. The mystery is nicely constructed, but not as striking as the wonderful premise of the toyshop that appears to be in two different parts of Oxford. Crispin is very good at capturing the city's essential atmosphere, and it is a genuine tragedy that his great talent burned out so soon. After a flurry of novels, he was in effect burned out at the age of thirty and he spent the rest of his life drinking himself slowly to death. We had a long wait for his last book,The Glimpses of the Moon, but it proved to be a disappointment. Far better to remember this witty entertainer by books like The Moving Toyshop.

(Incidentally, are other Blogger users finding, as I have done lately, that the previous torrent of spam comments has reduced to a trickle at most? Long may this continue...)


Anonymous said...

Crispin has long been a favorite of mine. That first-rate climactic sequence of "The Moving Toyshop" was lifted by Hitchcock for the closing sequences of "Strangers on a Train," and - for me - Crispin's descriptions on the page equal or better the images Hitch put on the movie screen. The book also is very clever about planting clues for the reader! In the US, the Felony & Mayhem Press has reprinted most of Crispin, and I do hope others find these books.

Pauline Rowson said...

One of my favourites too, Martin. I re read this many times.

Christine said...

Great stuff and I don't think it is even his best one. I very much like 'Buried for Pleasure' and 'Holy Disorders'. Must reread.

Bob_in_MA said...

Crispin was constantly trying different approaches to welding humor and mystery. The Moving Toy Shop is the most farcical, though there are parts of others that are similar like Buried for Pleasure). Then in the last Book, The Long Divorce, the humor is more like that typical of Christie, understated and never in the way of the mystery.

There's no question that combining humor and mystery is a little like making a salad dressing—like oil and vinegar the two are disinclined to mix readily.

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for your comments. Les, I didn't know that about Strangers on a Train - really interesting.
Pauline, hi!
Chrissie,Bob, I have never read Buried for Pleasure but in view of your enthusiasm, I shall seek it out.

Anonymous said...

Buried for Pleasure is my favourite. There is a beautiful section near the beginning describing a sleepy rural station which I particularly remember.