Top positive review
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The Case of the Gilded Fly
on 26 August 2012
This Golden Age detective novel begins with eleven people arriving in wartime Oxford, most of whom are involved with putting on a new play out of the glare of London critics. We are told that within the week, three of these people will die by violence, and the author sets the scene nicely with a cast of characters that seem full of jealousy and intrigue. These include the playwright Robert Warner, actress Yseut Haskell who seems universally disliked, organist Donald Fellowes, who is in love with the uncaring Yseut, and journalist Nigel Blake, who studied under Gervase Fen and is hoping to meet actress Helen Haskell, Yseut's sister, and who is the main character we witness events through. He is a likeable and pleasant young man who has been invalided out of the war after Dunkirk and whose knowledge of both Fen and the cast tie the book together nicely.
As Nigel attends rehearsals we witness the anger, jealousy and dispute that Yseut causes. Events escalate until they end in murder. This is almost a locked door mystery, with a lot of motives, no alibis and an almost impossible crime. Still, Gervase Fen, who is great friends with Sir Richard Freeman, the Chief Constable of Oxford, states he knows who is responsible for the crime. Gervase is a "cherubic, naive, volatile and entirely delightful" character, totally uninhibited and often rude, extremely intelligent and a specialist in English Literature, which is Sir Richard's passion in the same way that Fen is obsessed with crime.
This is a very atmospheric novel. I enjoyed the setting, with the use of rep theatre, Oxford University and the wartime era being used to great effect. The plot was convuluted but interesting, the characters good. Yseult is the wicked witch of the piece, causing scenes of arguments and mistrust in every scene she appears in. Some may feel certain characters are criticised unfairly on grounds of morality, but you must remember when the book is set and judge it on that basis. Many authors from this period use language and state arguments that are not seen as acceptable now, but were perfectly normal then. If you like books set in this era and enjoy authors such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Nicholas Blake or Christianna Brand, you will certainly enjoy this.