Although British author Sarah Caudwell wrote only four Hilary Tamar comedy-of-manners mysteries before her death in January, the long wait between each of them only whetted her fan's appetites. Oxford Professor Tamar's gender (as well as height, complexion, build and every other personal detail) remains a mystery in Caudwell's last, "The Sibyl In Her Grave," and the writing is as precise, elegant, urbane, witty and polished as any fan could hope.
Introducing the story, Tamar addresses the issue of personal appearance, admitting that some readers have expressed an interest. "I do not doubt, however, that these enquiries are made purely as a matter of courtesy and to take them au pied de la lettre would be as grave a solecism as to answer a polite 'How do you do, Professor Tamar?' with a full account of the state of my digestion."
Happily the narrator's reticence does not extend to the team of four young London barristers whose personal, romantic and professional doings enliven Caudwell's stories. Julia, tax expert, is concerned for her Aunt Regina who has made a truly remarkable killing in stocks and is now expected to pay tax on money already spent. Meanwhile Selena's client, a retiring merchant banker, has discovered that one of the two men vying to succeed him is guilty of insider trading - but which one?
These two threads neatly tie into the death of a despised neighbor of Regina's, a psychic whose aviary includes a pet vulture and whose household includes a most unattractive and hapless niece. The other two young barristers, Cantrip and Ragwort, supply red herrings and clues as needed and Hilary pursues this trail of coincidence to come up with several elegant solutions, each one engagingly convincing until demolished.
Dryly hilarious, elegantly polished, Caudwell is the Jane Austen of mysteries and though her books are few, each can be read and reread for the sheer delight of the writing and the intricate, comic plots.