Richard Cadogan, a somewhat frustrated poet, heads to Oxford to avoid his publisher. As he walks down the Iffley Road, he comes across a toyshop with the backdoor open. Entering the establishment, he finds the strangled body of an old woman and receives a hefty blow on the head. Staggering to the college of his old acquaintance, Professor Gervase Fen, they return in the morning to find not only has the body vanished, so has the shop itself, to be replaced with a greengrocers. Soon after, the toyshop is located – spirited wholesale halfway across the city.
With no suspects and no scene of the crime, your average investigator might give up, but Fen throws himself into the investigation. But with the police after Cadogan, can Fen stay one step ahead of the law and still catch himself a murderer?
And so my month of reviews of Golden Age books draws to a close. After Tragedy At Law, one of the CWA Best 100 Mystery Novels Ever, disappointed me somewhat, I thought I’d go for another from the same list. The Moving Toyshop is often cited as being Edmund Crispin’s masterpiece – but Tragedy At Law was Cyril Hare’s masterpiece and look what happened there…
Farce. That’s probably the best word to describe the style of this one. I used the same word to describe The Bat recently, but as we tear around the city of Oxford with Fen, shoplifting, chasing a woman simply because she has a dalmatian, wrestling with suspects in Parsons’ Pleasure – non-Oxfordians might have to look that one up – this has the hallmarks of an old-style caper. And let’s not forget that there are some massive coincidences.
In fact, the plot is pretty damn ludicrous. The plot behind the toyshop is absolutely ridiculous and makes no sense whatsoever. We’re back in the world of insane clauses in wills, giving a little symmetry to the month, but the plan to take advantage of the insane clause is so unworkable… but that’s kind of the point, given the tone of the story. I will credit Crispin with one thing – once he gets his list of suspects sorted out (quite late in the book) I was impressed that he then played fair by having one of them being the killer, rather than introducing yet another character, or providing a random motive for one of the support players.
So, this should have annoyed me as much as Tragedy At Law, yes? Afraid not. Just as my lack of interest in the legal profession made the background to that deeply uninteresting, being an Oxford alumnus made this book come to life. Add in the fact that Crispin’s sense of humour (not always his strongest point) really sparkles in this one, and it’s a great read. I think this, combined with Tragedy At Law, just goes to show how much personal taste can influence a reviewer. There are so many problems with the mystery that I really should be much harsher on this one, but it’s a really fun read and, as such, it’s Recommended.