Edmund Crispin sets up an intriguing mystery around a collection of characters involved with a rep theatre company in Oxford, set (and written) during the second world war. The detective is Gervase Fen, an Oxford don, who is as eccentric as he is brilliant. He is helped along by Nigel, a slightly confused and clueless journalist and Oxford graduate who plays the role of the reader - stumbling across information but unable to solve the crime as effortlessly as Fen. The cast of the story, and the suspects in the murder, are an agreeably dislikeable bunch of stereotypes, and the central puzzle is well worked out, with a few clever twists.
Crispin is clearly a fan of the murder mystery format, and he respects it here as an intellectual game. There is not a hint of psychological realism, and the book is littered with self-conscious references to the genre and to literature in general. Characters often quote famous literary passages, and their speech is sometimes described according to its grammatical correctness. In other words, The Case of the Gilded Fly is well written and well constructed, albeit in a way that puts everything at service to the main mystery. As a result, the puzzle is as darkly simple as a cryptic crossword puzzle, but the story occasionally stretches a little too far beyond the bounds of credibility.
There are a few touches that struck me as in bad taste, but that is probably because of the time when this book was written - there is an underlying trail of misogyny and classism, for instance. All in all, not one of his best books, but a good fun read nevertheless.