To say that Buried for Pleasure is a classic whodunit would not be doing Crispin’s novel justice. It is a well-constructed detective novel that is infused with large amounts of political satire and comic richness.
Our eccentric sleuth, Gervase Fen, has decided that he would like to run in a parliamentary election in the little town of Sanford Angelorum. Unfortunately he has to put his political ambitions on hold when a murdered policeman turns up on the campaign trail. What follows is Edmund Crispin guiding us through an hilarious sequence of events where Fen meets a number of comedic individuals during his investigation, including an escaped naked lunatic who’s convinced he’s President Woodrow Wilson, a peculiar priest who is trying to keep his domesticated poltergeist a secret, and a ‘non-doing’ pig who meets his demise despite assisting to put paid to the villain of the story.
I enjoyed all these comedic interludes because Crispin cleverly interweaves them into Fen’s investigation. In many ways the actual murder investigation in Buried for Pleasure plays second fiddle to the comedy and the political satire, but they in no way detract from the murder investigation that is capably managed and tidily wrapped up by Gervase Fen.
I hope this review encourages you to read some of Edmund Crispin’s crime output because his books are a delight to read and in Gervase Fen he has created a national treasure.
Edmund Crispin is literate, articulate and often tongue in cheek. If you enjoy novels from the Golden Age of Crime, this is a good book to curl up with while you drink wine or coffee. The characters and plot won't stay with you for long after you have read it, but while you are reading it you will relax and be gently amused. If you know some of the classics of English Literature, there are references that may reinforce a sense of being part of a well-read club. Books don't all have to be great and make intellectual demands; some can simply be fun and this is one of those - undemanding, but carefully crafted.
This volume in the Gervase Fen mystery series by Edmund Crispin is a fine addition to the series. It is the final volume of the Vintage (Random House) set which were reprinted in 2009 with smart new covers. All the ensuing books need to be found second-hand or in Kindle editions.
Surprisingly, Fen has moved out to a small countryside constituency to run for parliament as an independent candidate, having tired of his life as a professor of English in the Oxford college of St Christopher. Less surprisingly, dark deeds are afoot which Fen gets drawn into and ends up helping to solve. There is a magnificent gallery of characters depicted in the book, and a number of entertaining, on-going situations such as the enthusiastic but misplaced amateur demolition work going on to renovate the pub attached to the hotel where Fen is staying. Crispin's insights into the world of politics show that remarkably little has changed since the 1940s and Fen's discussions with his campaign manager are frequently hilarious.
The dénouement of the novel is particularly well thought-through and the reader can look back through the book and see where the clues to one of the significant aspects of the case were laid in front of us by the author.
On balance, this is probably the most consistently enjoyable and well-written of the Fen mysteries, closely followed by The Moving Toyshop and Frequent Hearses. It is also a very compact and economical story, told within 180 gripping pages.
Edmund Crispin's "crime" novels are always rather quirky but eminently well-written; they're flavoured with just a soupçon of old English whodunnit, laced with a quiet, understated humour. "Buried for Pleasure" isn't his best effort (a prize I'd award to "Love lies Bleeding" or perhaps "The Moving Toyshop") but it's nevertheless a worthy and entertaining read.
Gervase Fen, the hero, is on first encountering him, an apparently simple character - a gentleman private detective in the mould of Albert Campion, although more intellectual than aristocratic. As the character develops one can discern a more complex character, with hints of the genteel fashion of Miss Marple, tempered by the more prosaic nature brought about by exposure to human frailties. Being from an academic centre, one is drawn to the comparison of Fen with Morse, but this does not really exist, since Morse is more obviously romantic in his soul and yet more professional through his official position. The book explores a familiar scene - the idyll of country life facing upheaval, but with the added twist of a backdrop of a by-election, which provides a sort of stabilising sub-text. Red herrings are not particularly in evidence, although all aspects of the book are relatively understated. The whodunnit element is not particularly taxing, but one tends to forget that and concentrate more on the quality of the writing. A great book to relax with for crime acolytes with a penchant for the rather older English detective story.
It takes a very clever author to write so well in a lightweight pastoral vein, and Crispin is in good company. 'Buried for Pleasure' is like Wodehouse, but more substantial; like Michael Innes in 'Appleby's End' mode; like 'Cold Comfort Farm' in some ways. Crispin's more unusual inventions - the poltergeist, the non-doing pig - are memorable, and the ending is both satisfyingly catastrophic and suitably bathetic.
Strongly recommended for anyone who wonders whether the sun ever shone In the post-war years. Absolutely delightful.
Professor Gervase Fen takes up politics and stands as an Independent candidate in the Sanford Angelorum by-election. Then he meets a policeman friend investigating a case of blackmail and poisoning undercover. And then the friend himself is murdered. Of course, for Fen, investigating murder is much more fun than politics.
The mystery is as entertaining as usual and the political satire is still spot on in these days of Brexit and the US Presidential elections.
From previous reading and critical judgement, I had viewed this as the best of the Fen stories - unfortunately, it is not. Crispin's humour - both through political satire, and through Mitchellian imagination (escaped lunatics, vicars and poltergeists) - is at its best, but the detective story plot is rather weak: there are no red herrings, no suspects, and the reader is likely to tumble to the murderer's identity. Fen's political manoeuvres obviously take precedence in Crispin's mind over Fen's detection.
Simply splendid - my favourite of all the Gervase Fens, where the erudition and playfulness doesn't overwhelm the solid mystery plot. A really interesting set up too, with Fen standing as candidate in a rural by-election. Highly recommended.