Monday, June 3, 2019

Gervase Fen

At CrimeReads, "The Many Mysteries of Oxford," about authors who used that city and/or its University as settings for detective stories. Among the authors are Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse), Dorothy L. Sayers (Wimsey), "Simon Tolkien (Trinity College, Oxford), a barrister and grandson of JRR Tolkien"(!) and Edmund Crispin. Years ago I read and enjoyed all of the Crispins. From the blog post:
Edmund Crispin was the pseudonym of Robert Bruce Montgomery (St. John’s College, Oxford) who wrote nine detective novels and two collections of short stories featuring the slightly eccentric Oxford don Gervase Fen, Professor of English at (the fictional) St. Christopher’s College (which bears more than a passing resemblance to St John’s). The books are complex whodunits, often with locked room mysteries, and break the usual convention of the fourth wall [by having] Gervase Fen often directly addressing the reader. The best known of Crispin’s Oxford novels is The Moving Toyshop (1946) where a visiting poet (based on Crispin’s own Oxford contemporary at St. John’s, the English poet Philip Larkin) discovers a dead body in a toyshop before being knocked out and waking up the next morning to find the body gone and the toyshop now a greengrocers. It does have a lot of insider Oxford jokes but years of undergraduate study there is not required to enjoy the novel, which PD James (herself Oxford born) described as one of her top five crime novels. (the brackets indicate a modification of the original text)
There is an Inklings reference in one of the Crispin mysteries. From Chapter Four of Swan Song:
'Oh, for a beakerful of the cold north,' said Fen, gulping at his Burton. 'Impossible murders, for the present, must wait their turn.'

They were sitting before a blazing and hospitable fire in the small front parlour of the 'Bird and Baby'. Mudge had parted from them, with notable reluctance, at the door, in order to pursue his duties in less congenial circumstances; and Adam, Elizabeth, Sir Richard Freeman, and Fen were now toasting themselves to a comfortable glow. Outside, it was still attempting to snow, but with only partial success. ....

'There goes C.S. Lewis,' said Fen suddenly. 'It must be Tuesday.'

'It is Tuesday.' Sir Richard struck a match and puffed doggedly at his pipe. ....
The "Bird and Baby" is, of course, the pub named The Eagle and Child where the Inklings regularly met on Tuesdays in the 1930s and '40s.

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