My Favourite Moments In Novels No.4

Reading & Writing

Edmund Crispin

Robert Bruce Montgomery, born 1921, was the organist and choirmaster of St John’s College, Oxford. This spirited, funny man turned to composing movie music and wrote six scores for the ‘Carry On’ films. He also wrote the Gervase Fen books, eleven joyous volumes, all but one of which were produced between 1945 and 1951.

The first set the tone for what was to follow. Fen is Professor of English Language and Literature, and assumes that the reader can keep up with him as he spouts literary allusions while cracking crimes. The books are fast and fun, their hero charming, frivolous, brilliant and badly behaved. When he’s investigating, Fen tends to dive into pubs, play word games or start singing badly, anything rather than stick to the job at hand.

Sometimes, more daringly, he breaks the fourth wall and makes jokes about his publisher, or even his writer.

In the first Fen story I read, the lanky don hijacks a philosophy lecture by noisily cracking walnuts and then loudly telling his own tale, which is far more interesting. In ‘The Moving Toyshop’ Fen gets conked on the head and tied up in a cupboard. While he’s stuck in there he imagines titles for Crispin’s novel based on this adventure:

”Fen steps in’, said Fen. ‘The Return of Fen. A Don Dares Death (A Gervase Fen Story). Murder Stalks The University. Blood On The Mortarboard. Fen Strikes Back.’

Then, to pass the time, he lists unreadable books, including ‘Tristram Shandy’ and ‘The Golden Bowl’. The reading is such a joy that you don’t care so much about the crime, but the solutions are outrageously ingenious and highly implausible.

9 comments on “My Favourite Moments In Novels No.4”

  1. Jo W says:

    Not read any ‘Gervase Fen’ books. They sound interesting.That’s another author to go on my ‘to look for’ list.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    “The Moving Toyshop” is a re-reader.

  3. pheeny says:

    I liked Tristam Shandy. Does this make me a bad person ? 🙁

  4. Helen Martin says:

    There are many reasons to enjoy a book, or not enjoy it. There are many of us who stare blankly at others when favourite books are mentioned. If you like a book, any book, you are by definition at least a pretty good person. Harumph, harumph, went the librarian.

  5. Adele Graham says:

    One of my favorites is Buried for Pleasure, in which Fen stands for parliament. His campaign speech is a classic; it alone is worth the price of the book. If you pride yourself on being an informed voter, read it. He is one of the few authors who can make me laugh aloud.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Just checked our library and it seems that Edmund Crispin has been re-issued since we have five titles (including the Moving Toyshop) with dates of either 2007 or 2009 so you should be able to find them.

  7. Lisa P. says:

    I adore Crispin. Buried for Pleasure is probably my favorite, too. Hilarious prose. I’m just sad that I’ve read them all.

  8. John says:

    Read nearly all of the Crispins I could lay my hands on back in my teen yeras. Most were reissued when his last book The Glimpses of the Moon was published in 1979. I still have a few Gervase Fen books set aside to savor in my approaching old age. For me Crispin remains one of the best of the traditonal mystery writers. And of course he was inspired by John Dickson Carr! Montgomery’s AOK in my book. But have you read his biography? What a sad, sad life he led.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Lisa, there’s no law that says you can only read a book once. Even mysteries go pretty well a second and third time if the writing is good.

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