Edmund Crispin, in reality Robert Bruce Montgomery, wrote nine mystery novels and two short story collections featuring Gervase Fen, a crime-solving Oxford Professor of English. The finest of these is generally regarded to be The Moving Toyshop, but I’ve also seen Love Lies Bleeding and The Case of the Gilded Fly being highly rated. Can’t say that I’ve ever seen Buried for Pleasure even mentioned elsewhere, and it’s been sitting on my shelf for years without being touched, so, rather than review one of the better known works, I thought I’d see if this was an undiscovered classic. Or not.
The story concerns Fen’s trip to Norfolk in order to stand for Parliament. Whilst there, he meets an old University friend who just happens to be a policeman who is investigating a poisoning/blackmailing case. Next thing we know, the policeman has a knife in his neck and more evil-doings are afoot.
This is written with a great deal of humour, although not all of it works. At the heart of the story is a clever mystery, although one with no real surprises to anyone familiar to the genre. The clues are perhaps too heavily signposted and most of it has been done before (or since, I guess – this is from 1948) but it works. The difficulty is that there isn’t really enough mystery plot to fill even 170 pages and so Crispin fills the other half of the book with either Fen’s campaigning or Fen meeting the fairly eccentric people in the village. I’m not sure at all if some of the characters (such as the escaped madman who runs around alternately naked or believing he is Woodrow Wilson) are supposed to be genuine attempts at misdirection or just entertaining scenery. They certainly don’t work as the first, as once I’d decided on who the villain of the piece was, nothing made me doubt it, and as the second, they are diverting, but I kept glancing at my watch, so to speak, wondering how long it would be before we got back to the plot. One particular example of this is the local vicar who bangs on for a six pages about how he trained his poltergeist!
There’s also an interesting speech towards the end of Fen’s campaigning, which may be Crispin setting forth his political opinions, but to be honest, I found myself switching off as I read that.
So, to summarise, this is an entertaining piece of fluff, but nothing more. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but also nothing that would particularly offend. The mystery is fairly clued, but a bit obvious to me, but it won’t stop me giving some of Crispin’s more lauded works another try. In particular, I’ll be looking out for the short stories, as I imagine they would be less padded than this.