The Case of the Gilded Fly, By Edmund Crispin

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The Independent Culture

A reprint of Edmund Crispin's first novel (published when he was only 23), this has all the ingredients of a Golden Age detective story: it takes place in Oxford, the murder victim is an actress, there's a gallery of flamboyant suspects, and the detective is a gifted amateur – a Professor of English literature, no less – who makes the police look stupid. The trouble is that detective novels stand or fall on how sympathetic the investigating hero is, and Gervase Fen is not sympathetic in the least. Arrogant, facetious and affectedly eccentric, he peppers his conversation with snippets of Shakespeare and twee quotes from Lewis Carroll, and airily announces that he knows who the murderer is halfway through the book, but doesn't tell anyone for another 100 pages, during which time somebody else gets murdered.

Crispin seemed to know his hero wasn't loveable, as he regularly uses words such as "irritatingly" and "infuriatingly" to describe his utterances; but that makes him no less irritating. One is left wishing that Fen, not the actress, had been murdered.

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