This book was a Christmas gift to me—it’s kind of a flashback to the mysteries of the thirties and forties–in the good old days of mystery.
It was published in 1944 and was really written by Bruce Montgomery who was a British composer of vocal and choral music, as well as a writer for many humorous film comedies. The book was republished by Felony & Mayhem in 2005.
The mystery takes place at Oxford University and has an amateur detective, Gervase Fen, who is a literature professor on campus. This is the first in the Gervase Fen series, by the way.
I loved the opening scene!—-a train pulling into the station at Oxford—the way trains do, stop, start, back up, wait, go ahead a little, etc, until you think you’ll never actually stop and get off the train. And during this interminable activity we are introduced to the eleven main characters. Eleven! But I made a little list and was just fine. And anyway, three of them are going to be murdered and that will make it easier now, won’t it?
So we get into the gist of the book—-a play is being produced–there are various love trysts and jealousies–not too hard keeping it straight. The author throws in quite a few hoity-toity words (woids) that had me guessing, but not quite looking them up. Oops! how many times did he use “jejune”?
And at one point, the playwright is musing about his mistress, Rachel—and how “she had lost none of her beauty in the years he had known her. What was she now? Twenty-seven? Twenty-eight? Yet her figure was still firm, delicately moulded . . .” (ha!)
And with a drizzle of French and a smattering of German–a little unnerving since it was wartime in Britain– and quite a few literary quotations, we feel that we are right in the throes of the intellectual body at Oxford. (huh?)
I especially liked Chapter Thirteen—“An Incident at Evensong” for the descriptions of the music and the choir notes, but you won’t catch me telling you ahead of time what that “incident” was . . .
All in all, a pleasant enough romp of a mystery for a winter night or two.
And the solution!! I did guess the murderer ahead of time, but I never in a million years would have guessed how it was done! So that makes it a book to remember.