Item description for The Case of the Gilded Fly (Gervase Fen Mysteries) by Edmund Crispin...
Theater companies are notorious hotbeds of intrigue, and few are more intriguing than the company currently in residence at Oxford University. Center-stage is the beautiful, malicious Yseut -- a mediocre actress with a stellar talent for destroying men. Rounding out the cast are more than a few of her past and present conquests, and the women who love them. And watching from the wings is Professor Gervase Fen -- scholar, wit, and fop extraordinaire -- who would infinitely rather solve crimes than expound on English literature. When Yseut is murdered, Fen finally gets his wish. Though clear kin to Lord Peter Wimsey, Fen is a spectacular original -- brilliant, eccentric and rude, much taken with himself and his splendid yellow raincoat, and given to quoting Lewis Carroll at inappropriate occasions. Gilded Fly, originally published in 1944, was both Fen's first outing and the debut of the pseudonymous Crispin (in reality, composer Bruce Montgomery), whom the New York Times once called the heir to "John Dickson Carr . . . and Groucho Marx."
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Reviews - What do customers think about The Case of the Gilded Fly (Gervase Fen Mysteries)?
I'm glad I decided to read this story again. Jun 10, 2008
It has been a long time since I first read The Case of the Gilded Fly and I'm really glad that I found some time to sit down and enjoy it again after all these years. That is one of the things I love so much about these old, classic mysteries. No matter how much time has passed the story always seems just as exciting as it was the first time around. Modern mystery writers could do themselves a huge favor by immersing themselves in writings of the 1930's, 40's and 50's.
Gervase Fen is an Oxford don who specializes in English literature but really wants to work on murder cases. His longtime friend, Sir Richard Freeman, Chief Constable of Oxford, really wanted to study and critique English literature. These two made wonderful counterpoints because they both wanted to concentrate most on the thing the other did for a living. These two characters are wonderfully written by Edmund Crispin. Mainly, for me, because we get to see the best of both professions but given to us from the point of view of the character we would not necessarily expect.
The book opens in a most clever way. All the characters make the railway journey from London to Oxford within days of each other. Each is described during the train trip in wonderful detail concerning their reasons for going to Oxford and the reader is thoroughly acquainted with the characters by the time they all arrive at their destination. Because of the abrasive nature of one character, it is pretty obvious who the murder victim will be but Crispin takes his time leading up to the murder. By the time it happens, you are very much in sympathy with whoever decided to do this person in and Fen's quandry about whether or not to prove the person guilty is rather easy to understand. Because, Fen does know immediately who the murderer is. I, on the other hand, was not so quick off the mark. I had someone else chosen and resolutely hung on to that person until the bitter end.
Crispin has the Gervase Fen character utilize his vast knowlege of English literature very extensively. Sometimes, it can be somewhat confusing to someone (such as myself) who has only a basic smattering of knowlege of the subject. Still, one of the references did prompt me to do a little research to seek out the quote and read it in its entirety. I must confess that I find myself still scratching my head to try to decide if I think the (first) murder could have taken place in just that way. Wow, what a marksman! and on the spur of the moment too! Also, the motive for the first murder seemed to be rather weak for my taste. I would have liked for a weightier matter to have been the catalyst from which this malevolence sprang.
I love these old mysteries. I think they contain huge doses of character and charm. I really like to set aside uninterrupted time to fully involve myself in the atmosphere of the story. If this sounds like something you enjoy also, then Edmund Crispin could be just the author you are looking for. If you've already met Fen, Mrs. Fen and the little Fen consider going back for another time to a world which probably never existed anyplace outside mystery fiction but which I sincerely wish I had inhabited, even if just for a short time.
A gilded treasure from the Golden Age of British Mystery May 24, 2001
Edmund Crispin (pseudonym for Bruce Montgomery) wrote "The Case of the Gilded Fly" in 1944 while he was still an undergraduate at St. John's College, Oxford. It features the advent of Gervase Fen, Professor of English Language and Literature, and amateur detective extraordinaire. Another of my favorite characters, the deaf and possibly senile Professor Wilkes also appears for the first time and tells a ghost story right before the first murder occurs. A story within a story. A mystery within a mystery.
Fen solves both the mystery of the Gilded Fly, and the mystery within the ghost story.
Crispin specialized in creating 'impossible' murders for his Oxford don to investigate. A murder usually acquires the label 'impossible' at the death scene, when someone blurts out, "No one could have gotten past the gate keeper (or into the locked room or through the sky light). This is impossible!"
In "The Case of the Gilded Fly," we have:
"...Accident practically impossible. And murder, apparently, quite impossible. So the only conclusion is---
"The only conclusion is," put in the Inspector, "that the thing never happened at all."
Now Fen is off and running! A whole troupe of actors and actresses had motives for killing their colleague, and all of them (of course) have alibis.
The story begins when playwright Robert Warner mounts his latest experimental drama at the Oxford Repertory Theatre. His previous play bombed in London and he wants to try out "Metromania" in the provinces before opening it on the West End. His current mistress accompanies him to Oxford, and he unwisely gives his former mistress a role in his new play. Both ladies have other admirers. Their admirers have admirers. In fact, it's hard to keep track of who loves whom without a score card---or in this case, a playbill.
Although its characters sometimes sound frivolous and superficial (and very funny), 'Gilded Fly' also concerns itself with the gap between outward, conventional appearances and the inner turmoil that triggered a murder. All of the suspects have valid, psychological reasons for wanting the victim to die, but Fen is skeptical about crimes committed for hate or love:
"I don't believe in the 'crime passionel,' particularly when the passion appears, as in this case, to be chiefly frustration. Money, vengeance, security: there are your plausible motives, and I shall look for one of them."
If you agree with Fen, then you will be able to eliminate ninety percent of the suspects. If you're like me, you'll keep blundering off after red herrings until All is Explained at novel's end. The author doesn't cheat---you'll get all of the clues ahead of the final denouement.
'Gilded Fly' is both a tightly constructed mystery and a literate, witty, British comedy of manners.
NOTE: "The Case of the Gilded Fly" was also published under the title, "Obsequies at Oxford."