Wednesday, 9 August 2000

Edmund Crispin: Love Lies Bleeding (1948)

Edition: MacMillan, 1999
Review number: 570

We used to have Speech Days at the school which I attended, days on which prizes were given out and the boys and parents had to endure some of the most boring speeches imaginable. (The one in my final year, which I did not attend because of university entrance interviews, was easily the most lively: the headmaster unexpectedly declared that with government interference it was no longer possible for the school to offer a good education, and effectively resigned.) At Castrevenford, where this novel is set, the event is just as dull, and also contains a play and a sports demonstration.

Speech day in the year in which Gervase Fen, Professor of English at Oxford and amateur detective, gave the prizes was of course (this being a crime novel) distinguished by the murder of two teachers at the school and the disappearance of a pupil from the girls' school connected to Castrevenford. (One of the dead teachers is named Love; hence - partly - the title of the novel.)

Love Lies Bleeding is typical of Crispin's detective novels, with a complex puzzle combined with knowing and ironic use of the conventions of the genre. (This goes right up to the point of declaring that events chronicled would not make a good detective novel.) To some readers, Fen may seem rather tiresome, and he is certainly unbelievably secretive. His refusal to tell the police what he has worked out almost allows the murderer to escape, and it has no motive other than his own vanity. (The real reason, of course, is to inform the reader that they now have the clues needed to work out the solution without giving it away before the very end of the novel.) Nevertheless, the novels have a unique place in the genre and a charm of their own which makes them well worth reading.

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