Thursday, 6 January 2000

Edmund Crispin: Holy Disorders (1946)

Edition: Penguin, 1990
Review number: 415

Summoned by a telegram sent by his old friend Gervase Fen asking him to take over temporarily from the incapacitated organist at Tolnbridge Cathedral, Geoffrey Vintner finds himself involved in a strange plot: several attempts are made to prevent him successfully making the journey down to Devon.

Once he arrives at Tolnbridge, it becomes clear only that the organist was put out of action by an attack from a group of people, yet it is not at all obvious who they are or what they wanted. It may be connected with radio broadcasts made to the German forces from the area, detailing fleet movements from an important naval base nearby (the novel is contemporary to when it was written). One of Tolnbridge's claims to fame as a diocese is for the persistence of witches covens in the area, and some trials in the seventeenth century. Rumours have started of black magical ceremonies being practised in the area once again, and the attack may be connected with these groups.

Crispin binds all these elements together to create a mystifying puzzle for Fen to unravel. Fen is one of the more unsympathetic detectives in the genre - vain, eccentric, childish and prone to keep information back ready for later dramatic revelation. He is always ahead of the reader - Crispin has quite difficult puzzles, and I suspect that he cheats (In Holy Disorders, Fen says "I know who it is" but won't elaborate, and this comes some pages before I think there is enough evidence to be definite about the murderer.)

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