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This was given to me by mr_flay, and I'm very grateful to him because it is ace. It's a murder-mystery story set in Oxford in the late 1930s, and has as its central characters Richard Cadogan, a poet who has come to Oxford for inspiration, and Gervase Fen, a professor of English literature at the fictional college of St. Christopher's. It is also the third in a series of novels featuring the character of Gervase Fen, but that didn't really seem to matter in terms of following this one.

The style is very pacey, with all the action taking place over a single twenty-four hour period, and making full use of all the little quirks and charms of Oxford along the way. The story is generally light-hearted, while still featuring two murders and a number of rather unpleasant characters, and generally escapist, while still remaining realistic. I won't give away exactly how the toyshop of the title is able to move, in case anyone wants to read it for themselves - but it isn't, as I'd first assumed, by magic.

Crispin is also very adept at playing around knowingly with various different literary genres as the mood suits. I was just thinking how very much a description of an indoor funfair sounded like something out of Brighton Rock vel sim., when I was greeted with the following sentence:
"Like a scene from a Graham Greene novel, Cadogan thought as he peered in: somewhere there must be somebody saying a 'Hail Mary'"
Similarly, I fell headlong for the red herring - only to have one of the characters say much the same to another seconds afterwards. Oh well.

And finally, you may think I have such a one-track mind at the moment that I'm seeing it everywhere - but I couldn't help but be struck by how much Gervase Fen reminded me of the Doctor in Doctor Who. It's not just that he is the brilliant yet eccentric mind who leads the chase around Oxford after the murderer, with Cadogan trailing in his wake asking confused questions. The description of his physical appearance also bears some resemblence to the Tenth Doctor, while his mode of transport is a beaten-up old sports car which enters the novel in a cacophony of unhealthy engine noises before tearing, out of control, across a college lawn, backfiring, crashing into a rhododendron bush, and finally shuddering to a halt after being hit on the engine with a hammer by Fen. TARDIS? I think so.

I'm not the only person who has noticed this, either. On looking up Edmund Crispin after reading the book, I found that Who novelist Gareth Roberts has described The Moving Toyshop as "more like Doctor Who than Doctor Who", and cites Crispin as an influence on his own novel, The Well-Mannered War - a rather pleasing coincidence, since I have just finished reading Lungbarrow in my lunch-breaks (review to follow), and that is exactly the novel I planned to move on to next. What I failed to find out in my searches, though, is why the publisher's details at the front of The Moving Toyshop say that it is copyrighted to someone called "Jean Bell" - not the author's real name (which was Robert Bruce Montgomery), or anyone that I can see was in any way connected with him. If anyone can shed any light on that little mystery, let me know.

Anyway, I would recommend this book to anyone, but I would upgrade it to compulsory reading for anyone who a) has ever lived in Oxford or b) likes Doctor Who.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 5th, 2008 07:18 pm (UTC)
I like Doctor Who (although perhaps not as much as you do) but I think describing The Moving Toyshop as more like Doctor Who than Doctor Who is a bit big-headed of a Doctor Who writer and a rank insult to the wit and narrative flair of the mysterious triumverate of Messers Crispin & Montgomery and Ms Bell!
Aug. 5th, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC)
Eh? Surely it is a massive compliment? I read it as meaning "This is what Doctor Who would like to be like, but will never pull off quite this effectively."
Aug. 6th, 2008 11:37 am (UTC)
I see your point, but I think it's rather hubristic (is that a word?) that he thinks The Moving Toyshop is any kind of Doctor Who. Rather like me writing a play and saying that Shakespeare was more me and I could ever be.

Does that make sense? I know what I'm trying to say but I'm not sure I'm actually saying it.
Aug. 6th, 2008 12:10 pm (UTC)
Yes, it does make sense. I think his comment is deliberately a bit paradoxical, hence the potential for us to interpret it in almost-opposite ways. He's at once suggesting that Doctor Who merits comparison with an accomplished work of literature (hubristic), and admitting that it'll never quite measure up (deferential). Maybe that's why the quotation so appealed to me (and obviously to the person who included it in the Wikipedia article too). I think it kind of gets to the heart of what I like about Doctor Who!

Oh, and I'm good with hubristic as a word if you are.
Aug. 5th, 2008 07:49 pm (UTC)
Edmund Crispin is splendid, I'm a big fan of the Gervase Fen novels (of which there are several more, if you're interested!); I'm very glad you like him!
I have no idea about Jean Bell, though; if it's a modern edition, perhaps she's his heir?
Aug. 5th, 2008 09:40 pm (UTC)
It is a modern edition, but it says 'Copyright 1946 Jean Bell'. Still, I guess that could be shorthand for 'Copyright 1946 - originally to Bruce Montgomery but now passed to Jean Bell'.
Aug. 5th, 2008 09:50 pm (UTC)
A mystery worthy of Gervase Fen! :-)
I can't find my copy to check, but '70s copy of another of his, The Case of the Gilded Fly (which you should also read!) doesn't seem to have a copyright notice at all, so that's no help at all. :-)
(But it does give me an excuse to use this icon!)
Oct. 31st, 2008 07:53 am (UTC)
My 1977 reprint of the original 1958 Penguin edition is "© Robert Montgomery". He died in 1978.
Oct. 31st, 2008 10:57 am (UTC)
Ah, thanks for the information. I guess Jean Bell must be an heir of some kind then. And glad to hear you enjoyed the book. :-)
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 5th, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC)
Yup, I'd definitely like to try a few more now.
Aug. 6th, 2008 08:42 am (UTC)
Many thanks for the recommendation - it sounds fabulous and I love things set in Oxford so I will certainly be reading it.
Aug. 6th, 2008 09:45 am (UTC)
Yes, do - from what I've gathered of your literary tastes, I'm pretty certain you'd enjoy it. And I agree about things set in Oxford! It is so surreal anyway that it lends itself very beautifully to fictional worlds.
Aug. 6th, 2008 09:53 am (UTC)
I shall definitely look out for him - that sounds really interesting!
Aug. 6th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
I really liked The Moving Toyshop. Unsurprisingly, Oxford isn't especially good at producing realist literature (Brideshead or Jude the Obscure are the only examples I can think of) but it is good as a fantastic setting, as in Pullman's novels. You should also keep an eye out for this: http://www.drwhoguide.com/who_na20.htm

- K
Aug. 6th, 2008 09:19 pm (UTC)
I haven't read Brideshead yet, though have just enjoyed another Waugh book, and have put it on my mental 'to read' list. But actually I think Oxford works quite well in Jude the Obscure. Perhaps partly because it isn't really very realist there, but is more of a metaphor for social divisions?

Anyway, thanks for the link to the Who novel. I may save it for a while, as it looks from the plot summary as though it would be quite confusing to me at the moment, for similar reasons to the ones I've outlined in the Lungbarrow review which I've just posted. But it does sound appealing.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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