Saturday, 22 October 2011

Battered Penguins XII



I first discovered Edmund Crispin when my brother left one of his Gervase Fen books behind at our house. Although theoretically detective novels, these books have absolutely nothing in common with the dark, gory tales that are modish today. Instead, the reader finds himself in a slightly PG Wodehouse-esque world, where murder happens, but, rather than being something nasty, it is really just the pretext for taking the reader on an amusing stroll.

In Buried for Pleasure the stroll we are taken on takes place in a village called Sanford Angelorum, where Gervase Fen is trying to drum up votes so that he can become an MP. Until Chapter 8 there is not actually even a hint of murder. Instead, Crispin, with the conspiratorial tone of a friend with whom you are sharing sweets at the back of a school classroom, creates an amusing little world, in which the barmaid is dogged by a devoted pig, a lunatic with a fetish for gloves and a belief that he is Woodrow Wilson is on the loose and the landlord of the pub, in his attempts to renovate the place, is progressively demolishing the whole building.

An idea of Crispin's tone can be gleaned from his description of the neighbouring town - 'Sanford Morvel looked as if it were trying to be a gracious, peaceful country town and failing very badly' - and its hall, 'which ...was of that kind peculiar to the English genius, whose heating is defective, whose lights illuminate only those parts which do not require illumination, whose windows are worked by an agglomeration of screws, rods, and cog-wheels of which the motive power, a detachable handle, seems perennially to be mislaid - a hall, in brief, which the architect had designed to accommodate itself to almost any social activity from church bazaars to The Mikado and which, in consequence, accommodates itself to none.'

The book would almost certainly be condemned by those people who are setting up the alternative highbrow Booker prize, but it made me laugh quite often and gave me a couple of hours undemanding pleasure. That was more than good enough for me.

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