Saturday, 20 September 2014

Poison Pen: The Long Divorce by Edmund Crispin

published 1951




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.

28 comments:

  1. The use of the Dickensian soubriquet by the detective always puzzled me a bit in this book but on the whole Crispin is always such great fun that I just don;t care. As for stories of his sharing porn with Pip Larkin, I kind of wish I could un-know that Moira - ah well, time to grow up I suppose, though this is probably not the reason I so willingly retreat into the comforts of Golden Age crime fiction :)

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    1. Re: Dickens, I think he just liked to show off, but in a charming transparent way. Yes, sometimes the Larkin revelations are too much, but I still stick to my liking for the trio of Amis, Crispin and Larkin for their different talents. I found out recently that Crispin wrote music for Carry On films...

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    2. Bruce Montgomery, until drink got the better of him, was a pretty prolific film composer (about 50 scores I think) - he did pretty much all the early Carry Ons but he became unreliable and so they got Eric Rogers instead, who is the composer most associated with the series.

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    3. Thanks for the extra details Sergio - he was an interesting character, but ultimately the drink did for him didn't it?

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  2. "undeniable mouse-colour" - ouch. It does build up a picture of immense moral respectability however - I shall go and read it to find out if that too gets subverted.

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    1. He almost gets there with his women characters, gives it a go anyway. This one is a doctor, which is a step in the right direction. And of course she has inner beauty....

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  3. Moira - Oh, Crisipin did have that attitude towards the genre didn't he? And yet, as Sergio points out, he is such fun to read. And the whole village setup is just such a classic of crime fiction, you just know Crispin would use it....

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    1. Yes, I liked the way he used the conventions of GA, and I really wish he'd written more, because I think he might have gone in some great new directions. Lost masterpieces, is how I think of him.

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  4. When did you last see a lady with mouse-coloured hair? I miss it! (A coat-and-skirt is a suit, because it was common to say "suit" - I wonder why? Still worse to call it a "costume"! Is "two-piece" beyond the pale?)

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    1. I think the coat/skirt/suit things is a real shibboleth - you pick on something for no reason and divide the terms into PLU and common. Does anybody self-describe as 'mouse' these days - they did when I was younger....

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  5. I really like this one. Nice puzzle, great humor (love the cat) and a move toward more mature treatment of the women characters. My take:

    http://thepassingtramp.blogspot.com/2011/11/what-killed-crispin-creative-life-and_25.html

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    1. Thanks Curt, and I really enjoyed your review of it, and would strongly suggest that anyone looking at my piece should move on to yours: it is detailed and thoughtful. What an interesting character Crispin/Montgomery was, and what an intriguing collection of books he wrote.

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    2. Yes, such an amusing man, yet such a sad life in many ways. That often seems to be the case though, doesn't it? With that blog series on him, I wanted to bring home a lot of the insights from David Whittle's fine bio of him, which is outrageously expensive.

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    3. Yes I really appreciated that Curtis. I hadn't come across the biog.

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  6. And fainters always land in a "crumpled heap". ;-)

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    1. Yes indeed. And then they need smelling salts or sal volatile, whatever they are. Are they the same thing?

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    2. Jacques Barzun called the convention in English mystery that you throw up ("get sick") when immediately upon a murdered body the "emetic response."

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    3. Fainting much more elegant than throwing up....

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  7. I don't remember mouse-colored hair being self-descriptions over here. And while I love that suit with jacket and skirt (and hat), I don't think any woman has a figure like that. It's a bit of a caricature, I'd think.

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    1. It was definitely an accepted gradation of colour in the UK, people would say 'I'm afraid my hair is boring mouse' - in the middle between blonde and brunette. But you don't hear it nowadays... even though lots of people have hair that colour!

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  8. Deja-vous, I think I might have one of his on the pile, maybe!

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    1. Just the one, you haven't bought his entire back-catalogue? Well time to try the one....

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  9. No very restrained over here - December last year - Gilded Fly

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    1. The list scheme is obviously working perfectly for checking these things...

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  10. This is probably a similar to a comment I left at an earlier post on a book by Crispin. I have read two of his books, loved one and did not like the other. Glen gave me all of his paperbacks so I can try some more.

    The Moving Toyshop is the one I liked and I got an old hardback copy of it at the sale the other day. Probably one of my favorite books from the sale.

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    1. You need to do a post on the book sale Tracy - young people do this thing where they post a YouTube video of themselves upacking their shopping, is it a 'haul video'? You should totally do one of those.
      I think I liked Swan Song best of the Crispin books I have re-read recently, but I still have a few to go.

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    2. I will definitely do a post, probably more than one. We already have photos and scans. Just have to find the time.

      Swan Song is the one about opera? I can try that one, it is fairly early in the series.

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    3. Yes it is, and I did enjoy it. Look forward to seeing the haul.

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