Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thus Was Adonis Murdered: Review

COVER NOTES:  DEATH IN VENICE. For young barrister Julia Larwood, it was to be a vacation in pursuit of eros, in flight from the tax man .... An Art Lover's Holiday to Italy. Reduced to near penury by the Inland Revenue, Julia could hardly afford such a luxury, but she'd be in hock to the Revenue either way, so why not have a holiday? Poor, hapless, incurably sentimental Julia. How could she know that the ravishing young Art Lover for whom she conceived a fatal passion was himself an employee of Inland Revenue Or that her hard-won night of passion would end in murder-with her inscribed copy of this year's Finance Act lying a few feet from the corpse...
(©Dell Publishing)

Julia's intrepid friends--consisting of her colleagues in chambers as well as Oxford don and sometime sleuth Hilary Tamar are the recipients of Julia's letters from abroad and soon learn that she is suspect number one in the murder of the beautiful Ned Watson. They determine to track down clues and haunt the fellow Art Lovers until proof can be found to persuade the Italian authorities of Julia's innocence. Somehow just the fact that the murder was too tidy for Julia to be responsible is just not as convincing to the Italian police.

Thus Was Adonis Murdered reads like a cross between Jane Austen, British drawing room comedy, and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest written as a murder mystery. There are so many scenes that make up this upper-crust-sounding, yet slightly slap-dash amateur investigation so much fun to read. From the letters written by Julia that give us a firm idea of her intellectually sound but common sense starved self as well as the background for the murder to the barristers' shameless pumping of art aficionado Benjamin Dobble to Cantrip's interview with Major Linnaker, a shady art and antiques dealer, there are delights all along the way.

I really must share this tidbit from Cantrip (about the interview):

Was it really only two hours? It seemed much longer than that. Much longer. Much, much longer. The Major's known a lot of women. English women. Italian women. Arab women. Serbo-Croatian women. The right sort of women, the wrong sort of women. Women who would, women who wouldn't, women who might have. He told me about them all. Are you sure it was only two hours?

The light touch and light banter between the barristers make for a quick and entertaining read. I thoroughly enjoyed the dry British wit and sarcastic humor. There are also several very apt descriptions of the academic life and mind. Very appealing, fun, and interesting.

Back in 2011 when I read The Shortest Way to Hades, I made mention of the fact that nowhere in the story do we learn whether Hilary Tamar be male or female (and that I didn't really notice this until John at Pretty Sinister Books pointed it out). I had assumed that Hilary was a woman because Hilary is generally a feminine name in the US.  And certain ways in which the other characters addressed our law-type scholar made me think s/he was female as well. This particular reading makes me think that Hilary is a man. There's something about the way s/he addresses fellow characters. Darn it. Caudwell is pretty good at this keeping a secret and mystifying the reader business. Now I'm curious to see which way I lean in book number three.

I love the Edward Gorey covers on of the main reasons I first grabbed them up. I'm so glad that the stories live up to the covers. ★★★

Julia's unhappy relationship with the Inland Revenue was due to her omission, during four years of modestly successful practice at the Bar, to pay any income tax. The truth is, I think, that she did not, in her heart of hearts, really believe in income tax. It was a subject which she had studied for examinations and on which she had thereafter advised a number of clients: she naturally did not suppose, in these circumstances, that it had anything to do with real life. 

On my first day in London I made an early start. Reaching the Public Record Office not much after ten, I soon secured the papers I needed for my research and settled in my place. I became, as is the way of the scholar, so deeply absorbed as to lose all consciousness of my surroundings or of the passage of time. When at last I came to myself, it was almost eleven and I was quite exhausted: I knew I could not prudently continue without refreshment.

Julia did very well,' said Selena, 'not to fall into the lagoon. How beastly of that woman to suggest she'd had too much to drink.'
'Most uncharitable,' said Ragwort. 'Julia, as we all know, needs no assistance from alcohol to make her trip over things.

I had already established, as you know, that it was logically impossible for Kenneth to be distressed by anything that might occur between Ned and myself; but Kenneth, being an artist, has perhaps not studied logic and is unaware of the impossibility. (p. 139)

 I would think it odd, he said, that he had never married. I did not, in fact, think it at all odd--the statistical chances against any woman being prepared to endure both the hairiness of his legs and the tedium of his conversation seemed to be negligible. I did not express this view, but said sympathetically that the military life must be difficult to combine with the domestic. (p. 142)

I now realize that to see the Major when he isn't really there must at least be preferable to seeing him when he really is there. (p. 157)

One doesn't like to appear vulgarly inquisitive. But if everyone one knows has suddenly started murdering everyone else, it would be terribly nice to know about it. (Benjamin Dobble; p. 206)

Eleanor was charming. That is to say, her manner seemed designed to merit that description: she displayed towards us a sort of girlish archness, such as a doting father might have found captivating in an only daughter at the age of eight. The effect was as of attempting to camouflage an armored tank by icing it with pink sugar: stratagem doomed to failure. (p. 220)

If you're going to go and buy a load of stolen goods, you can't take a whole crowd of friends with you. The presence of third parties reduces the prospective seller to a clamlike condition. (p. 230)

This fulfills the Lawyer/Courtroom square on the Vintage Silver Bingo card.


Tea said...

One doesn't like to appear vulgarly inquisitive. But if everyone one knows has suddenly started murdering everyone else, it would be terribly nice to know about it. (Benjamin Dobble; p. 206)

I agree. This is the kind of gossip a person wants to hear immediately.

J F Norris said...

I've read two of the four Hilary Tamar books and this first one remains my favorite. I pulled SIBYL IN HER GRAVE (the last one) to read this year, but it once again got buried by other vintage titles.

Bev Hankins said...

John: I have the last two as well...but haven't gotten there yet.

fredamans said...

Had I not read your review, I would have walked right past these books. Oh shamelessly I know that I should open my eyes and expand my horizons, but I'm so very shallow. I see a series today and forget about all the wonderful series of yesterdays.
Thank you for making me stop and take note.
Great review!

Ryan said...

Not sure I would like the style of this one. I do love the Gorey cover.