Sunday, January 22, 2017

Edmund Crispin's The Moving Toyshop

It's dark days, both literally--it's overcast and rainy here in Toronto this week--and metaphorically, in the world at large. What better time for a comic mystery?

The Moving Toyshop, as far as I'm concerned, is one of the best.

I've read it, oh, a few times before, but the cover shown is the copy I got from the library. All the rest of Crispin is safe here on the shelf, but The Moving Toyshop has gone AWOL. No doubt I'm the guilty party who pressed it on somebody somewhen as a novel sure to please. If you don't already know it, let me press it on you.

The novel starts with poet Richard Cadogan in a funk and needing adventure, or at least a vacation; he wheedles an advance from his publisher to fund a brief getaway (from London) to Oxford. Train schedules fail him; he hitchhikes and finally walking into Oxford, where he arrives after midnight. He finds a toyshop where not everything seems right: it's unlocked, and he enters, hoping to find the owner and tell him his awning was untied and the shop was open. Instead, he finds the body of a woman, apparently strangled. He's knocked unconscious and locked in a closet. In the morning when he wakes up, the only exit is the window. He uses it.

"'Well, I'm going to the police,' said Cadogan. "If there's anything I hate, it's the sort of book in which characters don't go to the police when they've no earthly reason for not doing so."

Cadogan actually says that later, but he acts on his strongly felt sentiment. The police take him round, but the toyshop has moved, and there's no sign of a body, and rather pityingly, the police suggest he have that bump on his head looked at.

Half-convinced he is losing his mind, Cadogan goes to see his old friend, Professor Gervase Fen of Oxford. Enter the hero detective of the novel:

"He was a tall, lanky man, about forty years of age, with a cheerful, lean, ruddy, clean-shaven face. His dark hair, sedulously plashed down with water, stuck up in spikes at the crown. He had an enormous raincoat and a carried an extraordinary hat."

That must be Fen on the cover, I guess; there's the spikes in the hair and the hat.

This is the sort of novel that involves a crazy will, a lorry driver who reads Lawrence, a schoolteacher who defends Jane Austen in a bar, suspects with nicknames derived from Lear limericks, and more than one chase scene involving bicycles and drunk undergraduates.

The solution is improbable in the extreme, and perhaps not entirely convincing, but that isn't why one enters The Moving Toyshop. Come for the toys.

And an extraordinary hat.

Golden Age. Hat. My Reader's Block Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt.

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