A Mystery Binge: Amanda Cross’s The James Joyce Murder & Edmund Crispin’s The Case of the Gilded Fly

Case of the Gilded Fly edmund crispin 41MKNKVM8PL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

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.

The case of the gilded fly crispin penguin 2692951If 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 james joyce 51hqUh4nIXL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_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..

amanda cross jamesjoycemurderThen 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.