Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Swan Song: Review

I do love me an academic mystery. And Edmund Crispin's delightful series starring Gervase Fen--the Oxford don and quirky amateur detective--is a marvelous example of academic mysteries done right. There is witty, sparkling dialogue. There is intellectual name-dropping--"There goes C. S. Lewis," said Fen suddenly. "It must be Tuesday." There is unashamed references to fellow Golden Age sleuths (H.M., Mrs. Bradley and Albert Campion). There is the entertainingly mad brother of the deceased. There is brilliant humor--it's worth the price of admission just for the description of Fen driving his sporty little red car, "Lily Christine." Oh...and, incidentally, a cleverly constructed "impossible" crime. Impossible, that is, if it's murder and not suicide.

Swan Song gives us murder at the opera. An Oxford opera house is putting on a production of Die Meistersinger and while the star of the show, Edwin Shorthouse, may sing like an angel most everyone who knew him thought his origins were from a much warmer climate. His drunken advances to every available (or even unavailable female) doesn't do anything for his popularity with the ladies...or their male friends and spouses. And his insistence on misunderstanding direction hasn't won him any points with the conductor. So, it's no surprise that few tears are shed when Shorthouse is found swinging at the end of a hangman's noose in his dressing room late one night. The trouble is that while there are plenty people with motive, there just doesn't seem to be any way that someone could have murdered him. The police are prepared to accept a case of suicide. But a stubborn coroner's jury will have it as murder. And then there are attacks on the wife of one of the other singers. A second member of the cast will die and a third will be attacked before Fen will reveal how a man can be murdered by hanging with no one else in the room--and how revenge can extend beyond the grave.

This is great fun and Crispin's writing is a delight. Very reminiscent of Dorothy L. Sayers--which probably explains why I like it so much. Four stars.


J.G. said...

Sounds like this one has everything! Glad you enjoyed it so much -- the candle is just a bonus.

Ryan said...

I think I would read this one for the cover alone, but your review makes it sound like so much fun.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Glad you like this one so much as it's a real favourite of mine. That edition you link to really does have a wonderful cover - i love Crispin's mixture of clever plotting and droll humour - it's a shame he wrote so few books, but I love practically all of them and there are very few authors I can say that about!

Bev Hankins said...

Ryan & Sergio: That cover belongs to the actual edition that I have. Avon did some very nice covers in the late 70s and early 80s.