REVIEW: And Then There Were None, Part 2

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None

Adapted by Sarah Phelps for the BBC

First shown 27 December 2015

As the ‘Previously On’ teaser begins, we come back to Soldier Island as the victims do. We’re left in no doubt of the adaptation’s status as ‘thriller’: the sinister music, the quickly cut scenes, the final shot of death.

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The adaptation in many ways brings out elements that in the book were under the
surface. To put it bluntly, everyone on television is a lot nastier. Armstrong’s sneering
dismissal of Vera is unpleasant to watch as he spits out the line:

“Miss Claythorne, I warned you against becoming hysterical”

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– but it’s utterly believable as extension of the weak, overly defensive character we see in the book.

This has good and bad aspects. It’s part of the medium that television forces interpretations onto the viewer, whereas reading the book we can make up our own minds.

“Rogers, did you take away any of these figures?” is a very simple line but can be anything in print: investigatory, quizzical, conversational, interrogatory, aggressive. On television, an actress can only play it one way – and the way chosen this time is near-panic. It’s a valid interpretation, but does make everything more black and white.

But there are good sides to this. The 20s attitude to women, the working class, is unspoken in the book. An adaption made in the 21st century lets us see quite how nasty this could be – worth remembering next time we snuggle up to a cosy rerun of Poirot.

“Who the hell do you think you are? I’m a doctor, and you’re just a secretary” snaps Armstrong. “It was dreadful news about Mrs Rogers,” Miss Brent says briskly to the recently widowed husband, “she was a wonderful cook”. Everyone looks on to injustice, and says nothing.

The bad side is that putting all of these extra interpretations into the mix, and making quite a lot of subtexts into text, only mostly works. For one thing, the removal of the shades of grey from many of the characters makes it difficult to get emotionally involved with the fate of anyone: they’re all so unappealing. Even General MacArthur, the most at ease with his fate and least malevolent, is still defined by his selfishness: he doesn’t mind death because he doesn’t have anything to live for. It never crosses his mind that whilst heis done with life, the same might not be true of the others, especially the far-younger Vera, Blore and Lombard. For another, both MacArthur’s and Lombard’s
treatment of Vera, the former patronising, the latter predatory, means that she starts the story already two steps away from hysteria. Tension has to slowly build or rise and fall. If it maintains the same pitch for too long the audience get bored.

Additionally, the sad fact is that both Rogers and Mrs Rogers aren’t very successful characters. Through them, we learn that it’s a cruel world and the cast are cruel people by the way the rich characters treat their social inferiors. It doesn’t leave very much room for
either Rogers or Mrs Rogers as people. Arguably there’s not much the adaptation could have done about this as they’re both offed pretty early on, but then the same could be said of Marston yet Douglas Booth crams a lot into about five minutes. It’s unfortunate that, after making some much of their lot as servants, they are ultimately in the adaptation only to serve a dramatic function.

And then we come to Miss Brent.

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It’s been mentioned earlier that the original version of the character won’t wash here, simply because Miranda Richardson is far too attractive to play the character as written in the book. So instead we have to have a different motive. And the one we get is that she’s a repressed lesbian.

It’s not that it isn’t a valid interpretation, and it is good when adaptations do new things. It’s slightly disappointing that, for more than one character, what was a complex set of motives in Christie’s original boils down to ‘sex’ when adapted for TV.

This is also true for the Lombard and Vera story. And it was probably inevitable that Aiden Turner was going to take his top off at some point. The problem is that, as we’ve seen, the script has gone all this way to emphasise how the social barriers of class and gender remain in place despite everyone dying left right and centre. We see Rogers
making the breakfast after the death of his wife, then Vera being the one to deal
with lunch as the only woman left alive, and we’ve seen how the expectations are so built-in to this society that no-one for one moment questions this.

And then we also have Lombard wandering around shirtless in front of the ladies. Not that the character is really one to care, but you would expect someone to say something at this point because the rest of the characters have not yet broken down completely.

[An aside: Philip Lombard, let’s remember, is on the island because he killed a group of men, 21 in all. When Vera asks him about it, we get this exchange.

“Did you really kill all those men?” “Yes, Miss Claythorne, I did. And more.”

…and then he keeps going on about wanting to kill his host and make U N Owen number 22. Was he lying or can’t he count?]

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In a sort-of defence, the whole thing is not exactly sexed-up. Other than Lombard and
Marston, for whom it is in character, nobody looks good. Wargrave, Armstrong and MacArthur are nondescript, Vera is downright dowdy. We see characters greasy-haried, in dressing gowns. There is nothing sexy about watching a panic-stricken, half-naked Lombard realise that the gun has gone missing: it just shows us that he is in disarray both
emotionally and physically. And you would certainly not get the line ‘Now, let’s wash the guts off the stairs’ in Poirot.

So when, as the characters search all the bedrooms following the disappearance
of the gun, we get a Romantic Moment between a dressing-gown clad Vera and Lombard – who, slightly less explicably, still hasn’t put a shirt on – we can rest easy in the
knowledge that there’s definitely Dramatic Justification.

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REVIEW: And Then There Were None – Part 1

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None

Adapted by Sarah Phelps for the BBC

First shown 26 December 2015

The nation sits back on Boxing Day, stuffed full of turkey and chocolate, to
watch nasty, brutal murder. Classic stuff.

And Then There Were None is a rarity. It does not take place in cosy Christie-land, where the church clock chimes three as arsenic is served for tea. There are no glamorous parties, no girls with shingled hair. The key to Christie’s enduring appeal is partly escapism. The reader wants to be part of the settings of Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express, or The Body in the Library – seeing the pyramids, drinking cocktails in the dining car, having afternoon tea with the Bantrys. And there is an essential safety to Poirot or Marple, or to any of the novels with a one-off hero or heroic young couple. It’s the same logic as Shakespearian tragedy, and the detectives play the same role as Fortinbras in Hamlet or Albany in Lear. There is disturbance (the murder), followed by uncertainity and chaos. Then our heroes turn up and order is restored: the murderer is caught, possibly the Young Lovers get together, and things carry on as they always have been.

And Then There Were None closes with everyone dead and a houseful of bodies.

Any adaptors set themselves a challenge. An inferior story can be rescued by nice costumes, a few minor rewrites and some featured guest stars. And Then There Were None is already a good story, but a fundamentally unpalatable one: it’s a nasty tale about nasty people, but one that ramps up the tension and sends chills up the spine on every re-reading. To make it more audience-friendly, Christie herself injected a Young Lovers subplot into the first theatre version: a decision that is justifiable to make a feel-good play, but one that hasn’t stood the test of time*. An adaption doesn’t just have to stay true to the appeal of the original, it also has to find something new to say, to do something in its chosen medium (TV, film, play, e.t.c) that couldn’t be done on paper.

So, does it work?

1

We begin artistically. Shots of waving corn, followed by a close-up of
somebody’s eye. Quick, thrilling cuts introduce us to the characters.
Including the intro, it takes two minutes before we hear a line of dialogue.

For a moment, it seems like classic Christie: sunlight, a beach, a glamorous young girl with vermilion lips. Then we switch to the present day: dark colours, rain, and a thin, haggard girl standing in front of a window, sucking on a cigarette. It’s honestly a shock to find it’s the same person and we  know, immediately, that this is not going to be a nice story. This shows us in a matter of seconds what would have taken pages on paper. Even before she enters a grotty office to take the post of secretary on Soldier Island, we already know how far Vera Claythorne has fallen.

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Television can show us things that we can only infer from paper. Actors can bring new aspects to characters, aspects that were only implied in the original. Aside from a few clever visual gags – a close-up of the blind pull on the train makes it look like a hangman’s noose – we get to see things that there wasn’t space for us to be told in the novel. Our introductions to the characters are in little, telling vignettes, with an imperious Wargrave getting Blore to carry his suitcase as they arrive on the island, Lombard’s predatory eyes forcing Vera to move seats on the train, Marston’s car running Dr Armstrong off the road.

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Quite sweetly, we also see a couple of sympathetic moments from General
MacArthur. He’s quite thinly-sketched in the book, but Sam Neill gives him a humanity with his shy, earnest, pompous smile and the quietly chivalric way he chats to Vera after the boatman is rude to her. He even gets a small moment of heroism, staying calm while the others lose their heads as the action heats up.

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Anthony Marston is another cipher-in-the-book who becomes real on screen. Douglas Booth combines boyish good looks with charming, ruthless narcissim and is easily the most enthralling character in a scene.

Marston ran over two children and didn’t stop. When this is revealed, he asks ‘Who on earth are John and Lucy Coombes?’ with an air of pure bewilderment. A two-dimensional cut-out on paper is transformed into a glossy, arrogant rich boy who talks of ‘simpatico’ great chums, flings himself down on the chairs, leers at Vera, yet through all this maintains an air of childish innocence. His delivery of ‘Let’s be pals‘ as part of his ‘apology’ for running Armstrong off the road is BAFTA-worthy.

It’s an exceptional piece of casting. The same must also be said of Aiden
Turner as Lombard, who somehow manages to be dashing and sleazy at the same time. Lombard is clearly, unapologetically evil but enrapturingly so. Not once but twice we get a male-gaze from his angle directed at Vera. She shrugs it off, but it’s deeply threatening. The narrative makes it clear from the off that everyone on the island is guilty and every action, scene, shot and expression makes us feel part of the unsettling atmosphere.The lighting is cold, as are the big, empty rooms of the house. We see the bloodied bodies of children run over by a car. Wide camera angles mean the large house is made to look tiny against the expanse of the
island, the characters are small on the screen. Lines like “She’s been dead
about 14 hours…tell the others not to expect too much in the way of
breakfast” speak volumes in 19 words.

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That said, there are some missteps. Anna Maxwell Martin is a lovely looking woman with a rare, aristocratic, almost ethereal beauty. No amount of shaking hands and unflattering glasses will make her suitable for the role of browbeaten, meek, grotty skivvy Mrs Rogers. Emily Brent in the novel is a bitter, sexually frustruated, plain woman with a religious mania.

The unstated backstory in the novel is that Emily Brent found solace in
religious mania and self-righteousness because she was an ugly woman, inside and out, who was unable to attract friends or family: someone who lashed out at the world because the world did not want her. And in this role they cast Miranda Richardson.

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With all the acting in the world this doesn’t ring true.

Somehow, Richardson carries the portrayal off – it isn’t the Miss
Brent from the book, but the imperious, high-strung Lady of the Empire is a new and fascinating character in her own right. The same sadly cannot be said of Mrs Rogers. Bowed and scuttling, this portrayal is capital-A Acting and would work on stage. On screen, in close-up, it’s far too unsubtle and quite frankly unbelievable. There isn’t dramatic tension if a character starts the story so close to a nervous breakdown as Mrs Rogers clearly is; there’s nowhere to take the character. Both Mr and Mrs Rogers are too near parody, and you never forget for a moment that these are actors playing parts.

Fortunately, everyone else is so good that, for the moment, it doesn’t really matter.

*The flip side of this is that turning a ‘cuddly’ Christie into a cold story
doesn’t work either. The David Suchet Murder on the Orient Express is a case in point. The novel is the high point of cosy Christie: it has a genuinely
moral heart to it and takes place amongst fur coats and cocktails. The
adaption has the cast huddle shivering in a freezing train carriage while sympathetic characters break down and threaten murder, ending with a crisis of faith from Poirot of all people. None of these are inherently bad ideas, they just don’t fit with the theme of the original.

Review: He Wouldn’t Kill Patience

HeWouldntKillPatience

He Wouldn’t Kill Patience

John Dickson Carr (as Carter Dixon)

Heinemann, 1944

As motivational speakers are so fond of saying, we each have our own special talent. For John Dickson Carr, it was the ability to think up a series of increasingly unlikely ways people could be murdered alone in a room sealed from the inside. He’s the undisputed master of this, and He Wouldn’t Kill Patience doesn’t disappoint. The curator of a zoo is found dead in a locked room, sealed with paper from the inside: possibly murder, possibly suicide. Except that also found dead is one of his new specimens: and whatever he might have done to himself, the curator would never have hurt Patience the snake.

As a police officer in an Agatha Christie novels wisely said, most murders are dull:  domestic stabbings, shootings, poisonings, “accidents”, with a cast of two or three suspects at most. This makes detective fiction an improbable genre from the start, and howdunnits even more so. Locked room mysteries consequently have a tendency towards the slightly (very) bizarre from the get-go, and then we factor in the second greatest thing about John Dickson Carr: his genuine love of the eccentric and the arcane.  Writers such as Sayers or Innes sprinkle obscure quotations around like confetti and expect us to be impressed, but never once have they put a murder in a reptile house, with the Young Lovers investigating (a Carr staple, they begin at loggerheads despite never having met and end up a couple by the end) as the only descendants from rival warring families of magicians, the Quints and the Pallisers. Neither of these, naturally, are in any way vital to the plot.

He Wouldn’t Kill Patience wouldn’t know ‘gritty realism’ if it hit it over the head in a dark alley. Despite being set in the Blitz, the characters carry on their day-to-day lives as normal, even though there’s mention of longer-term effects. But neither of those things matter.  Because it’s killingly funny and one of those books that, while wearing its learning lightly (Crispin, take note), has a genuine intelligence and love of knowledge that shines through every page. It’s only a couple of paragraphs into the first chapter, paragraphs that centre entirely on the zoo doorkeeper’s complete loathing for humanity, that you realise that you’re reading a murder mystery written in the style of P G Wodehouse. Carr’s title as ‘Master of the Locked Room Mystery’ is well-deserved, but it causes us to forget that he can also do to other things if he chooses: character, and comedy. Sadly, his comedy is based on absurdism and so never mixes with character, while his character is based on cynicism and so never mixes with comedy. But it means, as the Young Lovers get into an argument on their first meeting and inadvertently set a poisonous snake loose in the reptile house, we get confrontations like this between Merrivale and the grumpy doorkeeper:

‘Don’t incite him sir! Don’t run from him! Stand still, I tell you! Just stand still and he’ll be all right!’

‘I ain’t got the least doubt of it,’ roared the travelling voice of the stout gentleman. ‘Given the proper amount of exercise, he ought to be absolutely O.K. The point is, what happens to me?’

Wodehouse-esque. Especially in that a) the brilliant dialogue is for the page, and this scene would be unworkable acted and b) that line is supposedly spoken as the obese Sir Henry is running for his life away from a venomous snake. Sir Henry Merrivale himself can sometimes fall prey to the disease of many Golden Age detectives: he’s a collection of eccentric characteristics, but never quite works as a character. I gave a copy to my dad as a birthday present [Five Minute Mysteries believes the adage ‘give as you wish to receive’, so its friends and relatives have grown used to being given a nice book each Christmas and birthday], and his one observation was that Merrivale’s background, in this novel at least, just doesn’t fit: a Sir who refers to women as ‘wenches’ and drops his haitches. It may well be that this is explained in other novels – I think The Judas Window mentions it – but it’s still jarring. And despite the brilliance of the opening scene, which works brilliantly by introducing the detective as a potential passer-by / antagonist, Merrivale always has the upper hand, and there’s never really a sense of peril. He’s Sherlock Holmes, but with a sense of humour. Which, in a way, fits, as Carr in essence has the humour or Crispin and the plotting of Conan Doyle, with the addition of lines like:

‘Death was flowing out of the windows, flowing away; but it left a corpse like a straw doll.’

But I say ‘as good as Conan Doyle’ advisedly. A writer such as Agatha Christie will lay out the clues in a way that the intelligent reader should be able to guess. Since no reader is ever going to be as intelligent as Agatha Christie, that rarely happens, but by the end of one of her novels you’ve suspected all the characters but you’re still surprised. Then, when you read it again, the solution seems obvious. With Conan Doyle or Carr, you’re surprised and you never see the solution coming, but that’s because it’s a conjuror’s trick, like a rabbit out of thin air. As with many Carr stories, there aren’t really any characters and the motive is spurious but then the solution itself is so utterly, brilliantly ingenious that it doesn’t matter, and it’s an entertaining read in its own right. Nowadays Carr is essentially out-of-print in mainstream bookshops, which is quite a shame. Because while he’s utterly, utterly esoteric, he’s also completely brilliant.

 *

Post-Script

Whilst anyone who calls J D Carr a misogynist is demonstrably an idiot, in approximately half of his books there’s a moment that makes you go ‘um…’, even though it’s almost always a sign of either villainy or simply a character taking the piss. Here, it’s in Merrivale’s romantic advice to Carey, one half of the story’s resident Young Lovers:

 “If she starts raggin’ you, son, you just wallop her one. That’s the way to treat wenches when they get out of hand”.

The past is another country. They do things differently there.

Review: The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

 

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The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

Fergus Hume

Kemp and Boyce, 1886

A drunk gets into a hansom cab and leaves dead, killed by chloroform. A newcomer to town, nobody had reason to mourn him, especially his rival in love. However, his death proves to have more motives behind it than first seem possible.

The first thing that grabs you is the blurb which, like many back covers, promises a ‘mystery that will hold you, the reader, from page one right through to the end’.  And, as part detective story, part murder-procedural with revelations continuing right up to the final chapter, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab certainly delivers. The pity is that the sentence before this asks ‘How could a person travelling on his own in the back of a cab been chloroformed to death?’, which promises an intriguing locked-room mystery.

A locked-room mystery that holds you, the reader, right up until…the second page, where it is revealed that somebody got into the cab with him. Just to make things that little bit clearer, he does this with the full knowledge and agreement of the cab’s driver (who later reports the murder). Twenty-eight pages later, (in a two-hundred and thirty-nine page novel!), we find out that this man did not only know the victim, but was the victim’s arch rival. John Dickson Carr, this ain’t.

The faults of the back cover aside, this is actually a very good murder-procedural, even if it does seem to shift genres throughout. For the first couple of pages, this seems a detective story: we have the (not-so) mysterious murder in the back of a moving hansom cab at the dead of night then we meet our detective, but this is done in a refreshingly novel way. For information about the crime, we cut from newspaper report to the inquest to the newspaper again, by which time Hume has neatly imparted all initial clues / alibis etc, then switch pace completely, cutting to detective Mr Gorby.

‘Hang it,’ he said, thoughtfully stropping his razor, ‘a thing with an end must have a start, and if I don’t get the start how am I to get to the end?’

In every detail in his introduction, he’s the typical Golden Age detective: initiative and eccentricity. When we initially meet him, he’s expositioning happily about the case. Since he’s a conscientious and honest policeman, however, he’s doing so to his only trusted confidante: his shaving mirror. Within three pages, he’s off discovering unusual pockets in dress waistcoats, finding landladies and, like everyone else in 19th to early 20th century detective novels, perusing the personal columns in the local newspaper.

However, the role of Main Character quickly shifts away from charming Mr Gorby to the accused, Brian Moreland and his amore, beautiful debutante Madge Frettlby. The story shifts from the crime itself to the crime’s effects, especially on Young Love: it’s rather as if Poirot had appeared at the beginning of The Mysterious Affair At Styles, then retired meekly to the background to let everyone else sort out their domestic affairs on the main stage.  But the murder-procedural format has its charms and, as always in good Golden Age novels, the little vignettes of humanity seen in bit-part characters are enjoyable. Unlike other novels set in the world of millionaires and debutantes, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab is not afraid to dip its toes into the murky waters of the Melbourne underclass. The passages set among the alcoholic, syphilitic victims of this glittering world are among the best in the book, and the two worlds intertwine nicely in a way that Christie would balk at. Even if one of the characters bears the slightly improbably self-critical name of ‘Mother Guttersnipe’.

The revelations keep coming, right up until the end, though the story has the same problem that The Moving Toyshop suffered from: when the crime is sold as a ‘how?’ question, then the ‘how’ question is solved very quickly, the reader becomes less interested in the who and the why. But this isn’t a detective novel but a novel about crime, and it’s almost worth buying for the glimpses into turn-of-the-century Melbourne society. Think Law And Order set in 19th century Australia. It’s a study in crime, and the way it affects the characters associated with it. The main characters pale a bit towards the end, but it keeps you reading and, for the most part, interested. Well worth a look.

 

Post scriptum

One of the 100 best crime stories of all time’  The Sunday Times

‘Fergus Hume…went on to write a further 140 novels, but none of them achieved any real success at all.’  The back cover

The one thing, sadly, that immediately grabs you about this book is the wordlessly depressing fate of its author (and the best possible counter-argument to the idea previously expounded here). We are told (by Professor Barrie Haynes of Toronto, recounted in the introduction by H. R. F. Keating) that about twenty of these are eminently readable, which somehow makes the pathos worse. (Neither Haynes nor Keating mention which twenty).  The Mystery of a Hansom Cab remains a curiosity today for this reason: the author who struck lucky once, but never again.

Review: The Moving Toyshop

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The Moving Toyshop

Edmund Crispin

Victor Gollancz, 1946

The Moving Toyshop has one of the most enjoyable, intriguing and beautifully clever opening chapters imaginable. Our hero, bored poet Richard Cadogan (enough of an everyman to be relatable and unconventional enough to be interesting) gets bored enough for a holiday, drunk as a result and, lost in Oxford at the dead of night, he stumbles across a dead body in a toyshop that has mysteriously vanished when he returns the next morning. For the experienced Golden Age connoisseur, something about this seems vaguely familiar and eventually all becomes clear. If The Moving Toyshop were a stick of rock (and Crispin in any other form would taste as sweet…) it would have the letters G. K. C. running through it. It has the same imagination, the same erudition, the same sense of the fantastical in the everyday (truly, perhaps, what magical realism ought to mean). But Crispin has both the same strengths and the same failings. Featuring the quintessential Oxford don detective Gervase Fen with a poet as the everyman and the title taken from The Rape of the Lock the book was always going to be impressive, with the imagination of Chesterton and the intellectual nous of Lady Dorothy about it. Unfortunately, The Moving Toyshop lacks one essential thing: a plot.

Because this is not a detective story, nor should it ultimately be judged as one. Oddly, in character it’s far closer to the modern-day thrillers that this site normally deplores. The force of the plot is not the puzzle, which is dispensed with in a paragraph halfway through the book. The murderer is never hidden, the only reason for the murder is money and there is no justification for the crimes beyond capital-E Evil. What it is, instead, is a perfectly enjoyable romp around Golden Age Oxford in the company of Cadogan, Fen, and a D.H. Lawrence-quoting truck driver.

There are many moments of hilarity, some of them intentional:

 ‘When I was an undergraduate I made love to a girl in here…I remember I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t put much zest into the business. I don’t suppose she enjoyed it especially, poor thing.’

But then, the novel was first published in 1946, and the above lines are so blatant that one can only suspect Crispin was in on it and, when the author is laughing at their own jokes so hard, it’s often funnier for them than it is for the reader. And that sums up the one, overwhelming problem: self-indulgence. So, when we get to the main character declaiming, at the climax, ‘He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a tip-toe when this day is named, and rouse him in the name of Crispin’ we’re less than  impressed.

This is not to say that the various asides aren’t funny: they are, often hilariously so. The main characters play ‘unreadable books’ in their spare time; hired thugs chasing Our Heroes boom out ‘and thine is the kingdom’ at the wrong moment in Chapel; Fen continues a telephone debate about subtleties in Measure for Measure at the most inopportune moments possible; on being told that a character has read all the books in his mobile library, Cadogan quips that he’s “getting too big for his Boots”.

And this is what the novel is: a very amusing selection of scenes, quips and commentaries from Edmund Crispin. We get lines like this, from a lorry driver:

“‘We’ve lost touch with sex – the grand primeval energy; the dark, mysterious, source of life.’ Not, he added confidentially, ‘that I’ve ever exactly felt that – beggin’ your pardon – when I’ve been in bed with the old woman.’”

Or exchanges such as:

“‘So you see, it’s by such means that the moneyed classes, gambling on the Stock Exchange, ruin millions of poor investors.’

‘But surely the poor investors were gambling on the Stock Exchange too.’

‘Oh, no, that’s quite different…’”

And every observation is quick to the bone, (almost)every joke is funny. But that alone isn’t enough to carry the endless pages of characters running aimlessly round and round and round Oxford again and again and again.

The novel contains precisely one character, eccentric detective (aren’t they all…) Gervase Fen. The viewpoint characters / straight men / gay young amateurs dancing their way through their cases are boring and forgettable in the extreme. The murderer’s motives are the most boring imaginable: Evil (with a capital E), mixed in with old fashioned Love of Money. The detective story is secondary to the characters and the setting, which makes for a very bad detective story. The most fascinating aspect, that of the toyshop itself, is dealt with mundanely within a paragraph. We spend the rest of the story in a thriller, as we follow our heroes in a life-or-death chase around Oxford, a far too genteel setting to feel any sense of peril, for reasons which…get gradually more and more confused. Like Chesterton, the reader leaves with the feeling that the author had one brilliant idea (the toyshop), perhaps even one brilliant scene, but then wanted to spend the rest of the time doing what he pleased. In Chesterton, this is philosophical musings. In Crispin, this is wandering around Oxford on a sunny afternoon.

And it’s a reasonably diverting ride. But nothing more.