The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh

Cambridge in the early 1930s. Prince’s College, in particular, and Prudence Pinsent, even more in particular. Prudence is the daughter of the Master of the College and is a free-minded, spirited individual. On her way to Suffolk to meet her cousin Lord Wellende for a few days’ fox-hunting… excuse me a moment while I go and vomit somewhere. Right, while on the way to meet her cousin, she bumps into Captain Studde, an agent of the coastguard, who’s on the hunt for some drug smugglers and who enlists Prudence to investigate her own cousin.

The drugs connect Wellende Hall to Cambridge itself – but who exactly is involved? And is there more than smuggling involved?

Well. That was… different. And not, I think, in a good way.

First off, this isn’t a crime novel. It’s a sort of dramatic romance, I suppose, that just happens to have a crime in it. We spend a good while dancing around the main characters – indeed, there are sections where you doubt Prudence is even the lead here – and the author seems much more interested in the rather creepy romance between Prudence and a tutor in the college.

So why is this fairly mediocre novel – in my opinion – in the Crime Classics range? Well, the author was the great-great niece of Jane Austen and… well, that’s it, really. I suppose one could describe this as a comedy of manners – but like some of the early releases in the range, this is more interesting for the style of writing than for the plot.

So, what is there to note? Well, for some reason, the word “damned” is always censored as d____d, someone is ridiculously sympathetic about someone trying to poison them, and there’s far too much about the wonders of fox-hunting. Theresa May would love this book. Oh, and we have the finest use of a certain phrase that has changed its meaning over the years.

“… he was clever enough to make love to me in this hall under father’s very nose”

Oh dear.

Anyway, for fans of the style of writing at the time, do take a look. But if you want a classic crime novel, you should look elsewhere.

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9 comments

  1. Thanks for taking the bullet on this one. In regards to our “titles” game I feel like it could be paired with my last read – A Dangerous Crossing (equally dire really), which is not a proper mystery novel by any stretch of the imagination. But hey at least I had an incredible escape from this one it seems.

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