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The Moving Toyshop, by Edmund Crispin

February 20, 2012

Favorite Felony: The Moving Toyshop, by Edmund Crispin

‘With varying vanities, from every part,
They shift the moving toyshop of their heart’

Alexander Pope, The Rape of the Lock

The above quote is also the ending of Edmund Crispin’s The Moving Toyshop. Thanks to Felony & Mayhem, I recently discovered the joy of reading Edmund Crispin’s series of mystery novels featuring Gervase Fen, Oxford Professor of English Language and Literature, and amateur sleuth. Fen often involves himself and those around him in ridiculous and dangerous situations. His life is often in peril; often by murderers, but also by his own awful driving in his beloved car “Lily Christine III”. All of the books are wonderful, but if pressed, I’d say The Moving Toyshop is my favorite (I’m in good company; P.D. James ranks it in her top 5 mysteries of all time).
Seeking shelter after arriving late at night in Oxford, the poet Richard Cadogan stumbles across the body of a dead woman in a toyshop. After fleeing the scene, he returns with the police the following morning, only to discover the toyshop is now a grocery store and there is no sign of the corpse. Cadogan joins forces with the eccentric Fen to solve the mystery, and the two alternately sneak and roar through Oxford determined to find a solution.
What sets The Moving Toyshop apart from other English ‘locked-room’ or ‘cozy’ mysteries are its inventiveness and sheer wit; Crispin cheerfully breaks the fourth wall, having Fen frequently referring to himself as the hero of a mystery novel, and suggesting titles for the novel in which he is appearing. There is an irrepressible humor behind almost every line: “Among the altos, hooting morosely like ships in a Channel fog – which is the way of altos the world over …” (Note: Crispin was actually Bruce Montgomery, a composer and music director and well-acquainted with singers.) With vanishing evidence, an impossible murder, literary references and games (“Unreadable Books” is played by Fen and Cadogan while locked away awaiting rescue), a frantic final chase involving half of Oxford, and genuine suspense, The Moving Toyshop has it all, and deserves its standing as one of the top mysteries of all time.

Michael, Warehouse Manager

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