Saturday, December 16, 2006

Fen Country - Edmund Crispin

First published 1979; cover shown is a 1986 reprint from Penguin Books (UK).

Fen Country is a collection of 26 of Crispin's short mystery stories, most written in the 1950s. Many of the stories feature Gervase Fen, the eccentric Oxford don/amateur detective who starred in eight acclaimed novels written over several decades, including The Moving Toyshop (1946) and The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944).

A Case in Camera, in which a country police superintendent will be forced into early retirement if he continues to insist that the perfect alibi of a suspect in a murder case isn't so perfect, was one of my favourites from the collection, as was The Pencil, a brilliant "twist in the tale" story in which a professional killer unwittingly causes his own death.

My clear favourite was a 1969 story titled, We Know You're Busy Writing, But We Thought You Wouldn't Mind If We Just Dropped in for a Minute. The narrator is a crime fiction writer living in a small cottage in Devon. Working from home, he is constantly being interrupted by the telephone, the doorbell, his housekeeper... By midday he has only managed to write one paragraph, and when the doorbell rings once more it seems that the narrator has finally had all he can take. What follows is a little predictable, but still very much worth reading.

Edmund Crispin (b. 1921) was the pseudonym of Robert Montgomery. He wrote in a very upmarket, witty style, with his many short stories displaying his great skill at writing. Like Hemingway he didn't "pad" his stories out, keeping description to a minimum. Crispin died in September, 1978.

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