A review of Buried for Pleasure by Edmund Crispin – 230227
If you enjoy your murders laced with humour and not a little farce, as I do, then Robert Bruce Montgomery, who wrote under the pseudonym of Edmund Crispin is an author not to be missed. Buried for Pleasure, which takes its rather incongruous title from a line of a traditional refrain, “Buried on Thursday, buried for pleasure”, is the sixth in his series featuring amateur sleuth and Oxford professor of English Literature and Language, Gervase Fen. It was originally published in 1948 and is a riot. The good news is that the final three novels in the series have just been reissued.
I got the sense that Fen was eager to give vent to his comedic and absurdist spirit and that the murder mystery, which is well worked and satisfying in itself, is but one of the delights to be savoured in the book. No po-faced, scrupulously litany of every avenue pursued by the sleuth à la Freeman Wills Crofts here. Fen’s investigative style is as impressionistic as is his approach to life in general and to politics. Astonishingly, as a break from writing a definitive volume about Langland he puts himself forward as an independent candidate at a by-election in Norfolk. His approach to electioneering under the direction of his agent, the raffish Captain Watkyns, is suitably eccentric and when it looks as though victory is there for him to take he tries to sabotage his chances with a speech that epitomises the attitudes of politicians and their electorate in terms that are as true today as they were, presumably, then. It is one of the highlights of the book.
But there is so much more. Fen stays at the local pub, The Fish Inn, whose landlord is systematically demolishing it, although he thinks he is making improvements. Inevitably, the pub falls down at the end of the book. Amongst its delights is a large painting which the locals spend hours discussing and arguing over its nautical subject matter. Then there is the non-doing pig, one of the funniest of Crispin’s animal creations, a pig that eats everything but steadfastly refuses to put weight on. The rector is haunted by a poltergeist who assaults him and there is an inmate from the local mental asylum on the loose whose penchants include exhibitionism, a glove fetish, and thinking he is Woodrow Wilson. Glorious stuff.
As to the murder mystery, Mrs Lambert, she of a racy past, was being blackmailed. She paid the first demand but upon receipt of the second, goes to the police. Within twelve hours she receives a box of chocolates which have been poisoned. Fen bumps into an old Scotland Yard acquaintance, Busy, masquerading as Captain Crawley. He informs the Oxford sleuth that he is investigating the circumstances of Mrs Lambert’s death undercover as something in the circumstances does not quite gell.
Within short order, a young woman also staying at the pub has stepped out in front of a noisy lorry and is seriously injured. When it appears she is about to regain consciousness, someone breaks into the hospital and tries to give her a shot of insulin, although the attack is foiled. Bussy, who believes he is on to something, asks Fen to meet him at a hut on the golf course at midnight. When Fen gets there, he finds that Busy has been murdered.
Fen is assisted in his investigations by Wolfe from the local police and Humbleby from the Yard. The clues are all there and the plot is not complex but Crispin’s art is to immerse the reader in a wealth of comedic episodes that it is difficult to keep the wood firmly in view for all the trees. The ending is a little abrupt and the culprit, if you have been lulled by the ludicrousness of the scenarios Crispin has conjured up, might come as a surprise, but it is there for all to see.
Even the car chase and the eventual demise of the culprit is hilarious, but Crispin has not done with his reader yet. Fen’s electoral blushes are spared thanks to a technicality in the accounting of election expenses. At least the sanctity of the ballot box and the electoral process was respected in those days.
This is the perfect antidote to a police procedural. The other three in the series are already on my TBR file.