Saturday, April 28, 2012


The Glimpses of the Moon was the last novel by Edmund Crispin (Robert Bruce Montgomery). The author had worked fitfully on the book for 26 years, meaning that it would either be a work of art or a hodge-podge. In fact, it’s a bit of both. The final product seemed to appear at a loll in his alcoholism towards the end of his life. 

The book shares a title with a piece by Edith Wharton, but for the life of me, I'm not sure of the connection, having not picked up a Wharton is nearly 30 years.

For those expecting the odd little man of the earlier Crispin books, this story is very likely to disappoint. Fen has lost his quirkiness in this last novel, and become more of an everyman, a spectator to the truly bizarre happenings in the little village of Aller where he is house-sitting. When the local drunk, Gobbo, pronounces the man who has been arrested for murder could not be guilty as Gobbo was chatting with the drunk at the time, Fen becomes interested in the murder case, in which the decapitated head of the victim makes a number of untimely appearances.

When it soon proves that Gobbo is mistaken, the first of many blind alleys in the book, Fen is still intrigued by the case, which seems to have more to it than he first suspected. However, having set up a classic detection tale, Crispin seems to abandon it for a meandering tale where events seem to gobsmack the detective, who is exceedingly passive in the novel. When a second corpse turns up at the local church fete in the tent of a Botticelli painting, which is not truly a Botticelli, Fen decides to solve the case.

The book is a mish-mash of odd characters and farcical scenes. The pig farmer’s wife is an Amazon who takes on new lovers and moves them into her home with her long-suffering husband. For those who remember the earlier Fen books, the discussion of the character’s sex life, in detail, is so far removed from the earlier books that it is jarring.

That said, the plot seems to amble from farcical scene to farcical scene. The Rector dresses up a woman medium for the fete, and the resulting mischief ends with the discovery of the second corpse. Fen happens upon the protest of a fox hunt by a group of animal rights activists that quickly devolves into a chase with Fen’s friend, the Major, astride an unreliable horse.

While I can enjoy farce and adore the novels of Alice Tilton who did farce so well, this is not what I expected from this author. The language was still as eloquent as in earlier novels, but just as with the fete where the sign for the Botticelli hides a shoddy painting, the language cannot hide the lack of a developed plotline. I have to wonder if this novel was published by the estate or the literary executor to help pay expenses for the ailing Crispin. It’s not a good example of the author’s works to finish an oeuvre.  

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Burning Court (1937)

Though I thought I'd read most of the John Dickson Carr books in my college years, this one had escaped me somehow. I picked up a copy for my Kindle and read it a few weeks ago. Doug Greene, in his seminal work on Carr, indicates that Carr wrote the book to show that the witchcraft and supernatural stories could be written about the US.

Overall, I enjoyed it very much. The story is atypical for Carr in that it does not have one of his series characters in it. The hero, if you wish to use the term, is an editor who lives in Pennsylvania. The man is reading a manuscript of true crime stories by Gaudan Cross and comes across the story of a woman poisoner who greatly resembles his own wife, who comes from rather mysterious circumstances. When it's discovered that a local man was poisoned, of course suspicions fall upon the wife.

Carr offered two impossible crimes for us in this book, which I enjoyed very much. First, who was that lady (sorry I couldn't help myself) who was seen in the victim's room on his last night, who turned and apparently walked through the wall? Then, what happened to the body of the victim?

As I've found with most JDC books, I am just merely along for the ride, because I can't possibly keep up with his mind and imagination. In this case, there is a double reveal. The crimes are all explained logically and then a final twist is thrown in, one that would have Father Knox rolling in his grave.

I would still give this book a hearty recommendation, and it made me want to search out the few remaining Carrs I haven't read.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Parker Pyne

I just finished re-reading Parker Pyne Investigates (or Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective in the US.) I’d read this book many years ago, and enjoyed it. Coming back to the book older (and hopefully wiser), I noticed some flaws with the book. The first and foremost is that it doesn’t live up to its promise. The advertisement for Pyne reads "Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne."

The first few stories of the collection are more tales of manipulation. How can the main character be moved into a situation where they are happy or more content with their lot in life? We are shown cases of bored pukah sahibs, unhappy rich widows and such. Pyne, who says that there are only 5 types of unhappiness (though sadly we’re never told what they are), goes to his files and finds the proper scenario to make them happy. My favorite by far is The Case of the Rich Woman, which shows that money cannot buy happiness.
He is ably assisted by Ariadne Oliver, who appears in two stories in this collection, well before her more formal introduction in Cards on the Table. Not much is different about her from story to novel, which isn’t particularly a surprise, since she was loosely based on Christie herself.

After the first burst of stories though, the tales become more familiar. Jewels are stolen, children are kidnapped, people are murdered. It was almost as if Christie had run out of fresh idea for the character before she ran out of required words for the collection. John Curran has little to say about the collection, other than it came during a remarkably productive period in her life.

My 1st edition of this book
So we’re left with almost two collections, the first light-hearted and adventurous and the second more traditional class mystery tales. That’s not to say that any of the stories are weak, but they are not her best either.

She does seem to have cannibalized a great deal of this collection for her later works. As mentioned earlier, Christie reuses Ariadne Oliver in Cards on the Table. A particular plot twist from the “House at Shiraz” is reused later in a later book.  Another of the stories is entitled “Death on the Nile” which appeared later that same decade as a novel. The two share little else in common than the title. In the short version, an older woman wants to hire Parker Pyne to learn if her husband is poisoning her. In one of the best lines of the book, Pyne asks her if she is hoping that he is not poisoning her or if she is hoping that he is poisoning her. A very interesting look at the psyche of an unhappy woman. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

New Blog

I've decided to start my own blog, after the sad demise of The Little Blog of Murder. I worked with that blog for nearly a decade, before we all decided to call it quits.

This blog derives its name from The Corpse Steps Out by Craig Rice, the subject of my first biography (and my favorite of her books.)

This blog is going to be a bit more focused on Golden Age Detective Fiction. Some of it will be excerpts of what I'm writing; others will be reviews of books that I've read lately.