Friday, 5 September 2014

Forgotten Book - Thus Was Adonis Murdered

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.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Delighted to see you take a look at this novel. I've always thought it a shame that Caudwell didn't write more in this series.

Martin Edwards said...

Absolutely, Margot. It's sad to think that book number four only appeared posthumously.

Clothes In Books said...

Thanks Martin - I said I'd like to read more about her, and you didn't let me down. I remember being knocked out by this when I first read it - because it was a modern book, but very Golden Age in feel. It was neither a gruesome psychological thriller nor a cozy, and I loved it for that reason. And I still love it, and re-read it every couple of years.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Moira. More about Sarah soon!

seana graham said...

I don't reread often, but this is one series I should make an exception for.

Kacper said...

I do adore Sarah Caudwell. I also wish she had written more of her wonderful novels. The word "unique" is horribly misused but I think it applies to her - she's in a category all of her own. I haven't read her novels in a few years, and I think they're due for rereading.

Ted said...

I love this book. I remember reading it in a restaurant and laughing out loud ... the only mystery book I've ever read that's done that.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, witty writer who could spin an enjoyable mystery; and a
real tease: as far as I remember she never gives the slightest hint
as to the sex (or should that now be gender?) of her narrator, Prof
Hilary Tamar!
She was blessed with a splendidly appropriate cover artist, too, the exuberant Paul Cox, illustrator of Wodehouse and Three Men in a Boat among other delights.