Mr Datchery had been aware of a car pulling up at the inn’s door, and now, as Mogridge spoke, its owner entered the bar., She was perhaps thirty – tall and slender, with green eyes, a pinc-and-white complexion, and hair whose undeniable mouse-colour was redeemed by its natural wave and its natural sheen. She wore a severely tailored brown coat and skirt which set off her admirable figure. And although she had the aspect of a professional or business woman, good nature and diffidence were both clearly legible in her face.
Inside the door she hesitated, looking a little dazedly about her. The fingers of her left hand, ringless, brushed her forehead as though she were shading her eyes.
‘Has Colonel Babington been here, Mogridge?’ she asked. ‘I – I wanted to – I wanted to see him because – ‘
And then she fainted. Mr Datchery was just in time to prevent her crumpling up in a heap on the floor.
observations: This is another of my small collection of crime stories dealing with poison pen letters - see also explanatory post and list here. It’s a classic of its kind: small village, collection of nobs and yokels, a variety of youngish people who might fall in love with each other, and much discussion of what might make someone write anonymous letters. There are several deaths too.
It’s also classic Crispin, in that he is unsure whether he is satirizing the genre or not – there is a terrible snobbish feel to the book, which sometimes is subverted and sometimes seems to be taken seriously. And the eventual explanations and motives behind various aspects of the business vary between the ludicrous, and ideas that might have been taken more seriously.
The name Datchery is a giveaway that this visitor to the village is not all he seems – the name is overtly taken from Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He is a visitor investigating the crimes, is all I’m saying. Those familiar with the Crispin oeuvre might guess who he is. This is a nicely short, easy read, entertaining enough.
Philip Larkin is a Zelig on this blog: he has never appeared in his own right, but clicking on the Larkin label below will bring up a most varied collection of blog entries. We have mentioned his Oxford poetry anthology, his comments on Gladys Mitchell, his friendships with Kingsley Amis and Barbara Pym, and his unlikely connection with What Katy Did. And now, the Crispin book is dedicated to Pat and Colin Strang, who were also important in the life of Larkin. Edmund Crispin (pen-name of Bruce Montgomery) was a friend of both Larkin and Amis.
In other entries we have explained why a ‘coat and skirt’ isn’t exactly what it sounds like.
Crispin’s Swan Song and Holy Disorders are also on the blog, and he is picked on as one of the secretly sexy writers in this piece for the Guardian.