Monday, 5 July 1999
Edmund Crispin: Frequent Hearses (1950)
Review number: 282
Out of his habitual Oxford world, Crispin's famous academic Gervase Fen is acting as a literary consultant to a film about Alexander Pope when a young actress who was to take a part in the film suddenly commits suicide. When a man dies at a script conference for the same film, Fen suspects something more sinister than a sudden illness. Tests for poison confirm that his death was indeed a murder, but who committed it? And what connection does it have to Gloria Scott's suicide? The case hinges on the true identity of Gloria, who took that name when she began acting; but no one knows anything of her earlier than two years ago, and someone has taken pains to hide her identity, removing named articles from her flat after her death.
Frequent Hearses is an atmospheric crime novel, leading to a bizarre conclusion chasing a murderer through an ornamental hedge maze. The mystery is presented in a very opaque way, the plot being carefully structured so that the strange goings on mystify the reader until Fen explains them later on.