#MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share your reviews/thoughts in this feature as well!
The fifth of the Gervase Fen books by Crispin, this was the second of these that I’ve read. The book opens in Castrevenford school where preparations are on for speech day (and prize day etc), but lots it seems is going wrong. One of the girl students from the sister school, participating in the school play for the occasion is visibly upset, but no one knows why, and then she goes missing leaving an uncharacteristic note about running away; there has been a theft in the chemistry lab; and now the night before the big day, not one but two of the teachers are found dead—shot—within a short time of each other. Luckily for the Headmaster, Dr Stanford, due to a last minute change in programme, he had invited his friend, Oxford Don Gervase Fen to deliver the speech. With his considerable experience on previous cases, and the fact that the local Superintendent, Stagge, is out of his depth and would welcome any assistance, Fen is involved in the matter right from the start.
This was an enjoyable read for me, a good combination of a fairly complicated mystery (in a sense) and humour—and I certainly enjoyed the writing a lot as well. The mystery as I said had plenty of elements, a kidnapping, theft, and murders (a third murder, apparently unconnected also occurs, and a second theft, from the armoury is also discovered), all of which are connected of course, and it is up to Fen to work out how. There are a number of people who could have done it, but in this one I felt, none really stood out throughout the book as having a strong enough motive (I mean as in a usual whodunit, one can narrow it down to a specific set of suspects—that didn’t happen for me here), it could have been any one of the characters around, though there was a clue about the person who turned out to have done it. But there were an assortment of them—masters, and some staff, including one who is the in-house gossip in a sense (Mr Etheredge), keeping his eye on all that goes on. There was also quite a bit of action in the plot too with a search for the missing girl, and more in a full-fledged car-chase at the end, reminiscent of movies.
The atmosphere of the school too I thought came through pretty well—activities (from exams and reports to various clubs and games), student love affairs, to teachers who get along and not with each other and the students (their approaches to their work, and the students etc)—one felt that one was amidst all the hustle and bustle and all the goings on. In the plot, one along with Fen keeps going between the activities of speech day (morning service, the speech, cricket, a garden party, and much more) and the investigations, with things having to be hushed up as much as possible since speech day must go on as usual.
There was also a fair bit of humour as mentioned, in for instance Fen writing his own detective story, which he keeps trying to tell Dr Stanford about, and the animals in the book. There is Mr Merrythought, a bloodhound with a tendency to ‘homicidal fits’ who seems to take a liking to Fen (Harold Bloom has described him as ‘a masterpiece of canine creation’), and who turns out to have a fairly strong role throughout the book. Fen and Mr Plumstead, another character who appears as the story moves on, also have an encounter with a ‘gross and evil smelling’ duck who has a ‘truculent gaze’, present at the site of the third murder. Both fun even if the duck had just a ‘guest appearance’. Other touches are there too including Crispin poking a bit of fun at his readers, also perhaps himself himself—with Fen observing when told that he was recognised from his picture in the papers, that this was ‘more than Crispin’s readers manage to do’).
All in all, a great deal of fun.