Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

10. Edmund Crispin (1946), The Moving Toyshop

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.

Tags: books, books read 2008, doctor who, oxford, reviews, ten

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