Occasionally we put on our thickest glasses to read Cicero’s De Senectute or peruse an article in Classical World, “Prostitutes, Plonk, and Play: Female Banqueters on a Red-figure Psykter from the Hermitage.”
Sometimes it is amusing, sometimes it is not.
And so we balance it with a genre book binge weekend.
This weekend I lolled on the couch and read mysteries by Edmund Crispin and Amanda Cross.
If you like Golden Age Detective fiction of the ilk of Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh, I recommend Edmund Crispin. Although I am not a huge fan of his most famous book, The Moving Toyshop, I immensely enjoyed The Case of the Gilded Fly, the first of his Gervase Fen mysteries, published in 1945. Fen, an amateur sleuth, is an eccentric English professor at Oxford whose wit and brilliance are slightly reminiscent of Albert Campion or Peter Wimsey.
Every Golden Age mystery writer writes a novel set in the theater. In The Case of the Gilded Fly, the premise is that a successful playwright, Robert Warner, has come to Oxford to try out his new play in a repertory theater. The actors, musicians, journalists, stage manager, and hangers-on are a congenial lot, with one exception. Everyone hates Yseut Haskell, a manipulative, promiscuous actress who was Robert’s mistress years ago.
So when she is found murdered in the rooms of an infatuated musician, there are so many suspects that it is hard to keep them straight. Fortunately we have Fen to sense of everything. This is a very entertaining mystery, and if the writing is a bit uneven, it is, after all, Crispin’s first book.
Amanda Cross’s Kate Fansler mysteries are, in my opinion, American classics. Yes, put her in the Library of America! I’m in favor. Cross is the pseudonym of Carolyn G. Heilbrun, the feminist critic known for Writing a Woman’s Life and The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty. She was the first tenured woman in the English department at Columbia University. She wrote mysteries under a pen name to protect her academic career. Her sleuth, Kate Fansler, is a brilliant, witty English professor, often assisted by her assistant D.A. boyfriend, Reed Amhearst.
In The James Joyce Murder, published in 1967, Kate has become the temporary custodian of the literary correspondence between James Joyce and Samuel Lingerwell, an American publisher. She is not a Joycean, but is a friend of Lingerwell’s daughter. She hires Emmett, an Austen scholar, to deal with the letters, because she knows a Joyce fanatic might attempt to hijack bits for articles. She has also hired William, a graduate student to tutor her nephew, Leo, and all are living in a country house..
Then one morning Mary Bradford, a gossipy farmer’s wife much hated by everyone in the neighborhood, is shot dead by William. All summer Leo and William have had target practice every morning with an empty gun. Someone put a bullet in the gun, and everyone is a suspect. Could it have something to do with James Joyce?
Fascinating, clever, and very good argument for gun control.
I’m a fan of both Cross & Crispin. I remember reading all the Crispins I could get my hands on one summer years ago. I really should reread a couple of them. The Amanda Cross books are also wonderful. I especially remember No Word From Winifred. I love academic mysteries.
I love academic mysteries! I read many of Cross’s books years ago and discovered recently that they are back in print. I’ll look for the Winifred. I probably read it, but at this point I don’t remember the plots of any of them.:) And am ready to binge on Crispin.
I *love* Crispin – Fen is such a wonderful creation, and the asides the reader just kill me! I re-read Holy Disorders recently and the opening pages had me laughing like a drain; yet by the end of the book the tension was really high and it was quite scary in places. Wonderful writer! I haven’t read any Amanda Cross but I’ll certainly be looking out for her.
Ooh! I can’t wait to read Holy Disorders. I have a copy somewhere. These are just so much fun to read…
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See, this is what happens when you want to reread books a million years later. I gave away all my Amanda Cross and now you’ve gotten me in the mood to read them.
I just ordered the Crispin. Sounds right up my alley.
If you want my extra copy of The Theban Mysteries, you can have it!
Sure, I don’t think I read that one. Thanks, Kat.
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