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review 2018-04-20 22:28
A murder is committed -- and hilarity ensues.
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin,Paul Panting
Quick Curtain - Alan Melville
Quick Curtain - Ben Allen,Alan Melville

Both Edmund Crispin's Moving Toyshop and Alan Melville's Quick Curtain are mentioned in the "Making Fun of Murder" chapter of Martin Edwards's Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.  Both are excellent examples of writers taking something as horrific as murder and turning it right around and into a farce, albeit (as Dorothy L. Sayers remarked in her review of Melville's book) at the expense of a realistic description of proper police procedure.  But then, a surfeit of realism isn't necessarily what either of these authors was aiming for.


Which doesn't mean that their observations on society, or the segment thereof being portrayed (academia in Crispin's case, the world of showbiz and the theatre in Melville's) aren't spot on satire.  In fact, if read in that spirit, they are, in many respects, as timely today as they were when originally written:

"Tuesday, June 18th, you will have noticed, was the great day [of the musical company's London opening].  On Sunday, June 16th, when most of the Blue Music company were still in Manchester [...], seven grim females parked seven rickety campstools outside the gallery entrance of the Grosvenor Theatre.


They were joined a little later in the evening by four more females and a lone male.  They unpacked sandwiches and munched.  They uncorked thermos flasks and drank hot coffee out of the aluminium tops of the flasks.  They discussed with one another Mr. Douglas, Miss Astle, Mr. Baker, Mr. Douglas's past successes, Miss Astle's last divorce, Mr. Baker's profile -- both the port and the starboard view.  They half slept.  They suffered endless agonies on their stupid, unreliable campstools; they each contracted stiff necks and shooting pains in the lower reaches of the spine; they were photographed for their pains by a man in a dirty waterproof and appeared on the back page of the Daily Post under the title 'Gallery Enthusiasts' Three-Day Wait for New Douglas Show.'  They were stll there on Tuesday morning, proudly in the van of a fair-sized queue."


(Alan Melville, Quick Curtain)

Harry Potter and Apple gadgets, anyone?



Edmund Crispin's Moving Toyshop concerns the temporary metamorphosis of a grocer's shop into (you guessed it) a toyshop for purposes of the concealment of the scene of a murder; a plan that goes haywire when one of the book's two protagonists, a poet friend of Oxford don (and star of this book series) Gervase Fen, accidentally stumbles into the temporarily morphed shop, shortly after the dastardly deed has been committed.  Crispin's particular forte were hilarious chase scenes, of which this book contains several, perhaps the most notable being the two amateur sleuths' chase after a young woman in the midst of the Oxford Händel Society's rehearsal of Brahms's Schicksalslied in the Sheldonian Theatre:

"The girl with the blue eyes and the golden hair was embedded in the very middle of the altos, and there was no way to get near her except through the basses, who stood nearby, behind the orchestra.  Accordingly, they hacked out a path between the instrumentalists, under the envenomed gaze of Dr Artemus Rains [the conductor].  The second horn, a sandy, undersized man, went quite out of tune with indignation.  Brahms thundered and trumpeted about their ears. 'Blindly,' the chorus roared, 'blindly from one dread hour to another.'  They knocked over the music-stand of the tympanist, sweating with the efford of counting bars, so that he failed to come in at his last entry.


The haven of the basses achieved at last, a number of further difficulties presented themselves.  The Sheldonian is not particularly spacious, and the members of the large choir have to be herded together in conditions not unreminiscent of the Black Hole of Calcutta.  When Fen and Cadogan, pushing, perspiring, and creating a great deal of localized pother, had penetrated the basses to a certain distance (Cadogan shedding wicker basket, bootlaces, and dog-collar broadcast as he went) the could literally get no farther; they were wedged, and even the avenue by which they had come was now irrevocably closed and sealed. [...]


Dr. Rains leaned his spidery form forwards across the rostrum. 'Professor Fen --' he began in a silky voice.


But he was not allowed to finish.  The girl with the blue eyes, profiting by this sudden focusing of attention, had pushed her way through the altos and was now heading at a brisk pace towards the door.  Unnerved by this fresh interruption, Dr Rains swung round to glare at her.  Fen and Cadogan got on the move again with alacrity, clawing their way back through the basses and the orchestra without ceremony or restraint.  But this process delayed them, and the girl had been out of the hall at least half a minute by the time they reached open ground.  Dr. Rains watched them go with a theatrical expression of sardonic interst.


'Now that the English Faculty has left us,' Cadogan heard him say, 'we will go back to the letter L.' The rehearsal started afresh."

I've yet to see the BBC TV adaptation of this, but if handled well, this is not the only scene that would have made for much hilarity, never mind the novel's otherwise somewhat thin plot.


Alan Melville's Quick Curtain is, as shown already in the excerpt further above, a satire on the world of 1930s theatre and showbiz, where a murder occurring at the focal point of a bestselling new musical comedy is investigated (with many quips and witty asides) by a policeman and his journalist son.  Obviously, this premise in and of itself is more than merely a little preposterous, even for the 1930s, but if you're able to get past this point (Ms. Sayers obviously wasn't) and past the fact that the central plot device has been used about a million times since, there is much to enjoy here -- and Melville, who knew the world he was describing inside out, certainly doesn't mince words when it comes to the characterization of the chief players who, like those of another theatre insider turned mystery writer of the day, Ngaio Marsh, are thinly veiled take-downs on several real life stars -- yet Melville (like Marsh) kept the allusions just on the right side of the generic and light-hearted, without ever descending into outright character assassination.  (Well, he was making a living in that very world himself, after all.)  And he managed to maintain his light, almost absurdist approach right until the end: Think a Golden Age mystery always ends with a pat and neat solution?  Think again.  Even if there is such a thing as a standard-issue conclave in the 23:45th-ish hour ...

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text 2018-04-01 10:27
March marches out...
The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars - Anthony Boucher
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life - Ed Yong
Burn Bright - Patricia Briggs
One Corpse Too Many - Ellis Peters
The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett
Miss Silver Comes to Stay - Patricia Wentworth
Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions - Amy Stewart
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin
The House of the Cats: And Other Traditional Tales from Europe - Maggie Pearson

Either I was feeling generous, or I had a great reading month.  Since my RL wasn't as nice as my reading month, we'll go with great reading!


My total for March was 26 books.  Moonlight Reader's inspired reading version of the game Clue! (Cluedo to those in the Commonwealth), Kill Your Darlings, certainly helped keep my reading pace up, and as always, worked particularly well at getting the veterans off my TBR stacks.  


Of the 25 books, 2 were 5-star reads:

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars by Anthony Boucher 

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong 


I had 8 4.5 star reads too:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs 

One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters 

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett 

Miss Silver Comes to Stay by Patricia Wentworth 

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart 

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin 

The House of the Cats: And Other Traditional Tales from Europe by Maggie Pearson 




Some stats, gussied up:


My TBR project:

I've set a book buying budget for each month that = 50% of the total books I read the previous month.  Any books not bought carry over to the next month.  


Last month I bought 11 out of the 15 budgeted, leaving me with 4 to carry over to April.  My total books read in March being 25 leaves me with a budget of 12 (I always round down; I figure this way, if I go over one month, there's a small error of margin). 


total books I can buy in April:  16

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review 2018-03-26 09:34
The Moving Toyshop (Gervais Fen)
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin

Martin Edwards sums up The Moving Toyshop perfectly:

"Few crime novels can match Edmund Crispin's most celebrated mystery for sheer exuberance."


Exuberance is the perfect word for this book; it's comic without being comedic, and it's obvious (to me, anyway) that the author had a great time writing it.


I loved the premise from the start: a man stumbles into a toyshop at night and finds a dead body, but before he can do anything about it, he's knocked unconscious.  When he comes to, he finds himself in a closet with a locked door and an open window.  When he escapes out the window and brings the police back, the toyshop is gone and a grocery store is in its place.


In a bounty of blessings, the entirety takes place in Oxford and much of it inside the hallowed halls of the University itself.  Lear's limericks play a part in the plot, and there are a multitude of literary references (including a few disparaging comments about Jane Austen's work, which I'm going to try to forget about as everybody is wrong about something in life).  


I loved this book.  The writing was a joy to read and I can't remember the last time I read a book that had me running to a dictionary to look up words.  I can't tell you how refreshing it is to read an entertaining mystery that isn't written at fourth grade literacy levels.


It was not quite a 5-star read; for a reprint some 80 years after publication, it had a startling number of grammatical and copyediting issues, but the main quibble I have is the ending.  Hilarity aside (and truly, the mental image of a chase involving shop-girls, undergraduates, university dons and proctors, publishers, doctors, bikes, and cars has to be experienced), the solution to the mystery relied on the most frustrating (for the reader) technicality.  After all the fun I had reading this mystery and trying to figure it out, the solution left me saying "oh, come ON!" at the book, and the cats giving me the side-eye.


Doesn't matter - this book is a winner regardless, and while I don't always agree with Martin Edwards' take on what makes a classic crime novel, he gets my full agreement here.  The Moving Toyshop deserves it's place in the ranks of the best.

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review 2013-10-14 18:03
The Moving Toyshop (Gervase Fen #3) by Edmund Crispin
The Moving Toyshop (Classic Crime) - Edmund Crispin

bookshelves: published-1946, adventure, classic, britain-england, amusing, mystery-thriller, one-penny-wonder

Recommended to ☯Bettie☯ by: Lee Aiken; Libbeth
Read in April, 2009

If ever there was a precursor to the Brentford Trilogy by Robert Rankin - this is it. Wonderful fun. On the last page Fen says 'Let's play "Awful Lines from Shakespeare"' and I bet that would be good fun to play.

TR - The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944)
TR - Holy Disorders (1945)
4* - The Moving Toyshop (1946)
TR - Swan Song
4* - Love Lies Bleeding (1948)
3* - Frequent Hearses

Tried one in the Dale series and was no where near as much fun as the Fen murder mysteries above.

2* - The Other Side of the Dale


Gervase Fen investigates an Oxford toy shop replaced overnight by a grocery store. Poetic Richard Cadogan found the apparently strangled body of an old woman upstairs, but she vanishes as well.

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review 2012-04-22 00:00
The Moving Toyshop (Classic Crime)
The Moving Toyshop (Classic Crime) - Edmund Crispin Robert Bruce Montgomery (1921-1978) wrote comic mystery novels under the pen name of Edmund Crispin, the first of which, "The Case of the Gilded Fly," was published in 1944. Crispin didn't write many novels, but those he did featured the eccentric, absent-minded Oxford don and professor of English and Literature, Gervase Fen.

The third of these books is perhaps his best. Titled "The Moving Toyshop," PD James named it as one of the best five mysteries of all time and critic and mystery writer H.R.F. Keating included it among the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published. Keating added, "The word to describe The Moving Toyshop is 'rococo'. It possesses in splendid abundance the ebullient charm of the works of art thus labelled. It is alive with flourishes. Its mainspring the actual disappearance of a toyshop visited in midnight Oxford, has all the right fancifulness, and at the end it is explained with perfect plausibility."

The plot centers on poet Richard Cadogan, who stumbles on the dead body of an old lady in an Oxford toyshop late one night right before a blow from an unseen assailant knocks him unconscious. But when he recovers, not only has the woman disappeared, the entire toyshop has vanished, replaced by a grocery store. When the police not surprisingly refuse to believe Cadogan's story, he turns to the only person he thinks can help, his former colleague Gervase Fen. Fen's response is a typical Crisin ploy, a breaking of the fourth-wall illusion, "It's somewhat unusual business, isn't it." "So unusual," replies the poet, "that no one in his sense would invent it." (At another point, Fen dreams up book titles "for Crispin.") Fen sets about solving the impossible crime via his intuition, wits and wit, tossing in various literary references and quotations along the way, including clues based on Edward Lear limericks.

Crispin unfortunately suffered from a problem with alcoholism, and it was his drinking that eventually made into an invalid and semi-recluse, too weak to write. It's a shame, for it would have been interesting to see where his imagination and whimsical take on the genre would have led him, had he had full use of his faculties. The Fen books are witty, clever and entertaining, and filled with wonderfully eccentric characters.

FYI, the Felony & Mayhem Press reprinted several titles in the Fen series, including a new edition of The Moving Toyshop just last year, adding to an audio book from Audible in 2008.
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