Monday, 21 October 2013

Holy Disorders by Edmund Crispin

published 1946







For Geoffrey, the choosing of a tie had developed into an elaborate ceremonial, involving reference to his suit and shirt, to the weather, and to an imperfect memory of what he had worn during the preceding ten or fourteen days. On this particular morning, having returned with some sense of anti-climax to the tie he had first selected, he gazed for rather longer than usual at his reflection in the dressing-table mirror. The impact of womanhood on his life, he reflected, is to make one rather more attentive to one’s imperfections than is normal. None the less, he did look at least ten years younger than his age; the slightly faun-like mischievousness of his face was, he supposed, not unattractive; light blue eyes and close-cropped brown hair had, without doubt, their charms… From these complacent reflections he was interrupted by a subterranean booming which he supposed must mean breakfast. He bent his attention painfully upon the outside world again, and hurried downstairs.




observations: There are many things worthy of comment in Edmund Crispin’s books: they are enjoyable lightly comic crime fiction stories and his series hero Gervase Fen is a fine creation, and there are some strange plots and great clues going on. There is another aspect of his books which we discussed in a blog entry featured on the Guardian books blog (
sex, since you ask). And here’s something else: a man taking pains with his appearance because he is newly in love – surely a very real phenomenon, but not one that turns up in books much. (There is this excellent piece of David Copperfield as a major counter-example, also discussed on a Guardian podcast). But here’s nice Geoffrey thinking about the beautiful daughter of the Precentor. Geoffrey is a musical expert, as was his creator – Crispin was the penname of composer Bruce Montgomery who, solid gold fact, composed scores for the Carry On films.

The action takes place during the second world war, and it is a key element - there may be spies - but oddly there is no wartime atmosphere, and most of the action could take place at any time. The story is a touch melodramatic, but not in the completely unlikely way that, say, The Moving Toyshop is – it’s a plot that you could imagine coming from another writer, not true of most of Crispin. But like his others, this one is clever and funny and charming. Gervase Fen describes a knot used by the killer and says it is called the Hook, Line and Sinker because ‘the reader has to swallow it.’ The cathedral clergy are shown as detective story fans: apparently they are ‘great readers – they have little else to do.’

Another Cathedral Close mystery here, and a Nativity play set in a Cathedral here.

The sweet, if rather fuzzy, photo is of E Herbert Norman, a Canadian diplomat and historian, as a young man.

10 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, so glad you did a Crispin. I've always liked his particular blend of humour and crime plot. And I've always thought Crispin particularly interesting because of his musical background. I have to admit I'm a sucker for a good academic-background mystery too. :-)

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    1. Yes exactly - I like Crispin for all the same reasons. And this one combines a Cathedral Close with academics and jokes, and a good surprise at the end. A book to read on a lazy afternoon I think..

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  2. This raises questions. I read the first Edmund Crispin book (The Case of the Gilded Fly) and did not like it that much, then skipped to Moving Toyshop and did like that a lot. So I will go back and try this one. My husband read all of them (he thinks) and passed them on to me years ago. Were there any others you particularly liked?

    I went and re-read the part about Crispin in the Guardian article and then checked out a poem by Philip Larkin, because of the connection in the article (trying to educate myself) and the poem (Aubade) was very good.

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    1. I liked Toyshop too, and a much later one called Glimpses of the Moon. I need to re-read Swan Song, because I think it's about opera: when I first read it I would have known nothing of the subject, but would find it more interesting now. Philip Larkin though - my favourite 20th century poet, I love his works. Very English, but if you liked Aubade you might get on with him! His poem An Arundel Tomb is easy to find online, and is very good.

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  3. Moira: I am not sure if you know of Norman's sad history. A distinguished diplomat he committed suicide in Cairo in 1957. Canadians protested to the U.S. that he killed himself because he was about to be subjected to a second inquiry by the U.S. Senate into alleged Communist connections.

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    1. I didn't know that Bill, I just saw the basics of his life - how interesting, another victim of the McCarthy era? I will have to look him up and find out more. I liked the picture because he looks so young and innocent here, while in later photos he is so distinguished-looking.

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  4. I kind of feel I should try at least one Crispin book, but only to tick a box maybe. I do like "lightly comic" tending more to the absurd and I'm thinking it might be a bit dated though.

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    1. Yes - I would call it 'of its time' rather than dated of course! They tend to be short quick and funny though. I was just saying to Tracy above that I need to refresh my memory. I recall liking Glimpses of the Moon, and I do know it has one of the best explanations for something that seems inexplicable, which I remember clearly 30 years later....

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  5. One of my favourites in the Fen series actually - great choice Moira, makes me want to read it again!

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    1. Thannks Sergio - it's a goodie isn't it? I like the weird mixture of GA features and wartime considerations...

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