Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dead and Buried

Gervase Fen has had quite enough of life as Professor of English at Oxford University. For starters, he’s just produced a definitive edition of Langland, and that’s enough to make anyone go mad, and the only remedy for that is a complete change in occupation. Plus, no matter where Fen goes, it seems that murder follows him and people keep dropping dead. So he decides to go into politics and get himself elected as Member of Parliament in the small village of Sanford Angelorum and the fine county surrounding it. True, he’s never lived there, nor has he even visited the place before, but you can’t let minor details like that derail a promising political career.

But then again, maybe Fate has other plans for Fen. On the evening of his arrival, he spots a large naked lunatic running in the middle of the road, before the man disappears. Before long, a suspicious accident occurs, a man is murdered, a blackmailer seems to be on the loose, Fen meets a real-life poltergeist, and there’s something about a non-doing pig in there as well. Look, it’s an Edmund Crispin novel; the only thing it’s really missing is a judge who bases his verdicts on the advice received from a lunatic in a box. More specifically, all this madness occurs in the novel Buried for Pleasure.

Edmund Crispin is one of the most delightful mystery authors to ever pick up a pen. The man was mischievous, and he took it out in the form of fiction. The Gervase Fen novels are uproariously funny, full of mad twists and turns and all sorts of things that can only sound ridiculous if summed up straightforwardly. This book is no exception. (Don’t even get me started on the invisible corpse.)

The highlight of the novel, from a comedic point of view, is the political satire. Not only is it funny, it’s still pretty relevant for modern day. Although Fen knows absolutely nothing about the issues in this election, he gives such vague and evasive answers that he sounds just like a “proper” politician would – explaining that all this comes from being a Professor of English. I was laughing out loud when, near the end, Fen tells the parable of three foxes named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and how they represent the way English politics work.

The best thing about a Crispin novel is that, as funny as it is, it’s still a good detective story. There are plenty of good moments in deduction in this book, and by the end everything is drawn together and makes sense. It’s a good solution, it fits the facts, and when it’s explained to you at the end it gives you that satisfying feeling of knowing that you could have deduced everything for yourself.

Overall, Buried for Pleasure is a delight. It’s well-plotted, delightfully funny, and the story elements are outrageous. At times I stared at the page and wondered whether Mel Brooks was trying to pull a prank on me, especially when the poltergeist showed up. It’s all in good fun, in the spirit of what John Dickson Carr called “The Grandest Game in the World”. I can recommend Buried for Pleasure as a solid entry in the Gervase Fen series, especially if you like outrageous, unpredictable plots. And I plead guilty as charged on that score.

10 comments:

  1. Glad you enjoyed this one, Patrick. I agree - it's one of Crispin's best. Have you read "Swan Song"? There's another wildly funny one, with impossible crimes to boot. Nothing to match Fen's closing political speech, though...wouldn't it be wonderful to hear a real politician deliver it?

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    1. Les, I did read SWAN SONG a couple of years ago... you might remember I was really cheesed off because my edition told me whodunnit right on the front cover and completely ruined my experience! Although I think it was a good enough book for me to enjoy it a lot even if I knew whodunnit. (Thanks, Four Square Press!)

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  2. I'm with you - I love the droll humour and clever plotting - not everyone likes these, which is a shame because I think they really stand up as a sort of clever mixture of Carr and Michael Innes - great review Patrick, really makes me want to go and re-read this one (that's my highest compliment chum)!

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    1. Sergio, thanks for the kind words! If I recall correctly, Crispin was inspired to start the whole mystery writing thing after reading Carr's THE CROOKED HINGE... so that might explain the Carr influence you cite!

      Interestingly, there is a character named Gervase Crispin in Michael Innes' HAMLET, REVENGE!. Perhaps a sly bit of homage from Crispin? I have no idea.

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  3. I always enjoy Crispin - recently re-read Holy Disorders and Swan Song - I should pick this one up next. Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. Both of those are good reads, although SWAN SONG has a much better plot. Still, HOLY DISORDERS has a hilarious opening sequence...

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  4. I've recently been on a bit of a Crispin binge, and it turns out that this is still one of my favourites. The non-doing pig, the naked madman who believes that he is Woodrow Wilson... this is just awash with comic invention, and the puzzle plot works really well. I do find it terribly amusing when I read reviews of this book on the net where they simply don't get the joke. I'm sure that I read someone, somewhere complaining that the rustic characters are not convincing, when it's fairly obvious that they're supposed to be parodies.

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    1. Sometimes, someone not getting the joke could be just as funny as the joke itself! I think that his one balances out the plot and comedy really well, and some of the stuff is so outlandish and fun that it's spellbinding in its own way...

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  5. Plot-wise, not the absolute best in the series, but the comedy and satire has always, and justly so, made this one a fan favorite. This also reminds me (once again) that I still have one last un-read Crispin book on the shelves.

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    1. Well, I'll concede the point on plot to you. There are a bunch of good clues and deductions, but for the really sharp-eyed reader some of the deductions might be more on the obvious side.

      That being said, Crispin really pours the crazy stuff thick and fast in this book, so that instead of spotting "A-ha! A clue!" you're too busy laughing at the reverend's poltergeist.

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