Friday, 7 July 2017

The Glimpses of the Moon by Edmund Crispin


published 1977


Glimpses of the Moon 2


On the Aller House lawn, twice yearly, the Burraford Church Fetes were held…

‘People come to our Fetes from miles around,’ the Rector said complacently. ‘And it isn’t all women, either; the men come because they can get pickled in the beer tent and enter their tykes for the dog show and gawp at the legs competition… The fairground stuff helps, too, makes a change from stalls selling doilies and jam and daffodil bulbs and musty old copies of Blackmore and Annie S Swan.’…

Though not large, the fortune-telling tent was relatively ornate. It was labelled MADAME SOSOSTRIS FAMOUS CLAIRVOYANT. Inside was murky, lit by an ancient hurricane lantern perched on top of a stepladder in the right -hand rear corner. On a rickety oval table with cigarette burns and beer-glass rings there were playing-cards, a skull, a crystal ball, a stuffed lizard falling to pieces and a packet of ten Guards. Behind the table sat the Rector; to his bombazine dress he had added a wig and a peculiar hat with an impenetrable veil. In front of the table was a chair for clients.


Glimpses of the Moon 1



commentary: This was Edmund Crispin’s final crime book. (Four of his earlier ones have featured on the blog.) It arrived in the world in 1977, 25 years after his previous full-length novel and often seems (and this is not a criticism) as though it is set in the 1950s.

He had another career as a composer, and provided music for many British films: when I wrote about the TB-ward-themed comedy Twice Round the Daffodils last week, I missed the fact that Bruce Montgomery (Crispin’s real name – he took the pseudonym from Michael Innes’ Hamlet, Revenge!) had written the score. He was a good friend of blog favourites Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin.

He is a much-loved crime writer. The books were funny and clever and in an older tradition, and all his fans have their own favourite ‘wink to the reader’ moment. In this book, series sleuth Gervase Fen peers at himself in the mirror, then:
At this rate, he felt, he might even live to see the day when novelists described their characters by some other device than that of manoeuvring them into examining themselves in mirrors.
It is part of his sweetness and charm that that this was far from true in 1977, and probably not in the 1950s either. And this in a tale where Fen’s proper job is to write a book about 20th century novelists, who are regularly name-checked with funny comments throughout the book – many of his friends feature. He also uses a lot of unusual words, hoping the reader will look them up I guess: indult, ergophobe, paynimry.

The crimes in the book are quite gruesome, and it’s hard to think of anyone solving them – but there is one truly magnificent clue, which is the one thing I remembered about the book from reading it when it first came out – what DID happen to the missing bit of the body?

The references to nymphomania were rather mind-boggling (though very much of their time).

But as ever you read Crispin for the fun, and I thought this was well up to standard. Fen collects the usual group of mates and they wander around collecting information and trying to work out what is going on. The Rector, above, is a particularly fine character. The Major has discovered television (again, more 1950s than 1970s) and sings advertising jingles all the time – many of them were familiar to me and circulated in my head for a day: ‘The hands that wash dishes can be soft as your face…’

Altogether I really liked this look into the crime fiction past: it felt like a part of history, and made for a great read.

Reading about the author in Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder for the purposes of this blogpost, I discovered that Crispin did a lot of crime reviewing – that sounds very interesting, I can’t be the only person who would love to read his opinions. I wonder who he wrote them for, and if they would be easy to collect?

The top picture is from the Library of Congress.

The ladies at the cakestall are from 1954, but seemed very much in the spirit of the summer fete in the book. Fortune teller from the National Library of Wales.



















12 comments:

  1. I always did love the musical side of Crispin/Montgomery's background, Moira. That and his wit, too. I'm glad that's present in this one, even if there is some gruesomeness to the book (Hmm....body parts..). I have to say, too, the little touch of fortune-telling is intriguing, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is very funny and entertaining, and my reference to bodyparts rather overstates its gruesomeness! I know you have quite enough books to read, but I do actually think you would like this one...

      Delete
  2. Probably not something I'll be seeking out thanks

    ReplyDelete
  3. Eccentric characters abound, and they are amusing and even delightful. You do get the flavor a village fair. I liked it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I very much agree - the fete seems very real, even though there wouldn't usually be a murder. And the character are a joy.

      Delete
  4. I absolutely love all of his books, and he must rank amongst my favourite writers of all time. GLIMPSES normally receives a lot of flak from fans as being many steps down from the rest of his output, but I agree that it is very much up to the standard of the best of his stuff. The puzzle is pretty good, and that clue is especially clever, but the puzzle element doesn't feel strong enough to power a whole book, more like a novella or short story.

    There has been some suggestion that the book was written over the course of many, many years,added to as he had a fresh burst of enthusiasm, which might explain the rather timeless feeling. At one point we hear that the police inspector in charge of the case rather styles himself on the head coppers in Z CARS, which sounds more convincing if this were the 'sixties rather than the 'seventies (by which time series like THE SWEENEY had revolutionised the TV police drama).

    The book is stuffed with fascinating characters sketches, not least the film composer who is successful writing for Horror Movies rather than the more romantic fare that he would rather be composing for. I wonder if this is a bit of self portraiture, as Montgomery ended up getting in a bit of rut doing comedy films. The Rector is a terrific character, with that wonderful bit of description where he is described as looking like Dr Jekyll frozen halfway into his transformation into Mr Hyde.

    The crime novel reviews were for THE SUNDAY TIMES. I would have thought that they had pretty good archives, so it shouldn't be too difficult for someone to pull them out. With lots of small publishers, and even e-books, I can't really see a reason why someone shouldn't do it.

    ggary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I think this book was pretty much pulled about when it first appeared - people had been expecting it, and hoping for it, for years. Someone (HRF Keating?) commented that there had been glimpses of the MS some time before it appeared. Perhaps they were doomed to disappointment. When I first read it I thought it was pretty good despite all the flak, and wondered if I wasn't careful enough or knowledgeable in my reading, not to see its problems. Now I'm older and see that you can only speak as you find - liked it then, loved it this time around. I do hope someone goes hunting round in the ST archives...

      Delete
  5. The fête scene reminded me of "The Ministry of Fear" and immediately gave me intimations of evil to come. :-)

    Love the Rector as gypsy fortune teller!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd forgotten that, I must re-read. Fairs and fetes always make for great narrative drive. And the rector was a hoot throughout.

      Delete
  6. I have always been curious about this book, since it was written so much later. I have only read a couple of the earlier ones. I disliked one of them but loved the other (The Moving Toyshop). But I have all of them so must try more of them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe read the earlier ones first, and carry on to this one if you like them enough...

      Delete