Monday, July 2, 2012

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

Plot Summary : Richard Cadogan is a famous poet who reaches Oxford in the middle of the night on his holiday. While walking on Iffley road Cadogan notices a queer shop and when curiosity gets the better of him, he enters the shop to investigate. It turns out that the shop is a toy shop and above it are living compartments. Cadogan wants to check that nothing is amiss and ventures upstairs, to his horror he discovers the dead body of a woman lying on the floor. Cadogan tries to attempt a hasty retreat but is struck on the head and is rendered unconscious. When Cadogan wakes up he runs to the Police and narrates the peculiarities of last night. When Cadogan along with the Police arrive at the spot, they find that the shop is not a toy shop but a grocery shop and there is no dead body in the premises. The Police attribute Cadogan's fantastic story to the bump on his head and leave him to his fantasies.

Vexed and Confused Cadogan approaches the Oxford University Don Gervase Fen. Together the two of them get involved in a whirlwind murder mystery adventure.

Review: Edmund Crispin was the pseudonym of Bruce Montgomery who wrote nine crime fiction novels featuring the Oxford Don Gervase Fen, who is the professor of English at the St. Christopher's College(a fictional institute). The Moving Toyshop and other Fen Stories were often influenced by the master himself John Dickson Carr. So did Crispin do justice to Carr and the Impossible Crime Genre?

I have never read such an Impossible crime novel, it is funny, intelligent and rightly the most famous of Crispin's works. The book has no dull moment whatsoever. It is a fast paced, highy entertaining little piece of detective fiction.

First of all the two protagonists Richard Cadogan and Gervase Fen are very unlikely and likable heroes, one is a poet and the other one is a English professor. The exchanges between the two intellectuals are instructive and at the same time entertaining. The book is filled with their literary quotes for the reader to enjoy and google. The middle aged duo keep involving other even more funnier characters as they go along.

For its ingenuity and different approach, I would put this one in the same league as Anthony Berkeley's The Case of the Poisoned Chocolates. Although the book is an ode to the Master, it is nothing like a Carr book. The Moving Toyshop is filled with ridiculous chase sequences, literary puzzles, highly intelligent and witty exchanges.

The Mystery of the moving toy shop is very well done and has a simple and logical explanation. Though why the murder was done in the way it was done is still a bit nebulous to me, perhaps the author became a bit too ambitious and stumbled a bit towards the end. I think considering the overall superlative quality of the book this is a small mistake which can be ignored. Even the identity of the murderer is well hidden and not easy to figure out among all the chaos and confusion.

The book even ends on a high note by quoting a brilliant para about women from the "The Rape of the Lock"

"With varying vanities from every part
They shift the moving toyshop of their heart..."

Strongly recommended. 4 out of 5 stars. I'm also submitting this as part of the Vintage Mystery Challenge 2012.

Where can you buy it? It's available online for about Rs 550.

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