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.