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Thus Was Adonis Murdered (Hilary Tamar #1)

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  2,572 Ratings  ·  211 Reviews
The first mystery in Caudwell's popular series featuring amateur investigator Hilary Tamar and a cast of clever and trouble-prone young London barristers. When a young man is found dead in Julia Larwood's bed, her barrister friends are the only ones who can uncover the truth of this masterpiece of murder.
Hardcover, 346 pages
Published March 19th 1981 by Collins (first published 1981)
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May 18, 2011 Sparrow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: beach readers
Recommended to Sparrow by: Elizabeth
Anyone who can tell a pretty hilarious Shakespeare joke is okay in my book. And this book is full of really hilarious Shakespeare jokes. Poor Desdemona. Oh, man. L, as they say, OL. And the slapstick. Oh, the slapstick! She gets it just right in that dry, British way, where you feel like she’s describing something really elegant, but actually it’s almost grotesque. This book was wonderful. I totally love it. I would give it five stars, except my undying devotion for Gaudy Night is making it impo ...more
Dec 01, 2010 Lightreads rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, law, mystery
I always feel very clever when I find something brilliant and obscure, even when all I did was take a recommendation (thanks, Kate Nepveu!). A series of British mysteries, starring a brilliant but sometimes hapless collection of young barristers and an Oxford tutor who is either remarkably clever or remarkably nosy, depending on whom you ask.

What a delight. Rollickingly funny in places, with a particularly deft touch for letter writing. That distinctively British slant of straight-faced absurdit
May 03, 2012 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"It's disappointing," said Ragwort, "that the young man has not turned out to be a homicidal maniac. But it can't be helped."
So a few book reviews ago I was all "I don't like amateur detectives!" and now here I am, head-over-heels for a amateur detective mystery series.

In my defense, Thus Was Adonis Murdered is no ordinary cozy mystery. It's the first of four books featuring a set of young London barristers and their friend Professor Hilary Tamar, the busybody esteemed Oxford don who, over drink
Oct 26, 2013 Harry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book Review

Scholarship asks, thank God, no recompense but Truth. It is not for the sake of material reward that she (Scholarship) pursues her (Truth) through the undergrowth of Ignorance, shining on Obscurity the bright torch of Reason and clearing aside the tangled thorns of Error with the keen secateurs of Intellect

Thus was Adonis Murdered and thus is his murderer extracted from obscurity: from indistinctness into certainty, from the labor of chase to the methods of scholarship, from the top f
Ann Herendeen
Jun 09, 2011 Ann Herendeen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-recently
Caudwell's four mysteries are so distinctive in voice and mood, the best word I can think of to describe them is "stylized." It's the sort of thing some readers adore and others probably hate (although it's hard for me to wrap my mind around that). Some readers may be put off by what one (admiring) critic called Caudwell's "distancing" techniques. Much of the action is told through letters, cables, narrations within letters within cables, etc.

"Adonis" is the first of the four books (Caudwell die
May 29, 2014 Liz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing style was very difficult at first. Caudwell is way too wordy with run on sentences in which I lost track, at first. Then, I either got used to her style or so absorbed in the characters and the story that I go over my irritation and really enjoyed the book. I laughed out loud at the tongue-in-cheek, very British wit with which she wrote. The solution was a bit convoluted and required a re-read to get it. All in all, an enjoyable book.
Jul 31, 2014 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is probably the most charming murder mystery that I’ve ever read and it was great fun from start to finish. I loved the format: although the murder takes place in Venice, the point of view is always that of barristers in London. (As an aside, I googled for the appropriate collective noun but with equivocal results. It could be a bore of barristers, or a cluster, or a boast, or a wiggery. The question remains open.) This group are a snobbish and insular bunch, yet somehow endearing in their ...more
Sep 16, 2007 Helen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the first of four mysteries written by Sarah Caudwell, who passed away several years ago. The protagonists are young barristers in London, and the Oxford don (gender never disclosed) who assists them when they are faced with difficulties.

The books are very funny!! I mean, Jenny didn't like them, but whatev!


"The procedure for taking advantage of Italian waiters--equally applicable, so far as I am aware, in other areas of the Mediterranean--does not merit any long exposition. It c
A young woman goes to Venice and is accused of murdering a young man in her tour group. Her co-workers back home read her letter and try to puzzle it together in a very irreverent way. I don't know what I was expecting but I had trouble with this book. I can certainly see the humor that is very British and over the top. The story is told through a series of letters from the woman to them amidst much commentary and speculation from the co-worker group. The language was hard for me to get into. It ...more
Dec 16, 2012 Patty rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Actually this was a DNF for me. I'm not sure why, I liked the premise and the characters mostly seemed okay. I think it might have been the language. it was very formal and very stilted my my inner ear. I also was easily confused when the reading of Julia's letters were happening. Someone would read a section, people listening would interrupt and comment and then back to the letters. Maybe it was that I didn't have enough long periods of time to read more than a few pages at a time. Either way, ...more
Lynn Spencer
Aug 11, 2015 Lynn Spencer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
A very witty mystery indeed! Though I occasionally found this book slow going, I mostly enjoyed the moderately ridiculous world of barrister Julia Larwood and her friends, other fairly new barristers. If you enjoy dry wit, particularly dry wit employed in the depiction of all manner of wildly ridiculous escapades, you really should read this book.
Julia's intrepid friends--consisting of her colleagues in chambers as well as Oxford don and sometime sleuth Hilary Tamar are the recipients of Julia's letters from abroad and soon learn that she is suspect number one in the murder of the beautiful Ned Watson. They determine to track down clues and haunt the fellow Art Lovers until proof can be found to persuade the Italian authorities of Julia's innocence. Somehow just the fact that the murder was too tidy for Julia to be responsible is just no ...more
Julie Bozza
Dec 07, 2013 Julie Bozza rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, crime
An interesting crime / 'amateur sleuth' novel, which holds the interest despite much of the action happening at a distance and being relayed via a series of letters. I didn't anticipate the details of the resolution and yet it was all perfectly plausible, so that makes it a winner on the crime drama front.

I was inspired to read this book by the intriguing notion that we never discover the gender of the 'point of view' character, Professor Hilary Tamar. As a writer I wondered how that would be do
Jamie Collins
4.5 stars. I was enchanted by this. It’s a comedy of manners, and also a pretty decent murder mystery. The writing is stylized to look like something you’d see in a Regency or Victorian novel, which seems a bit incongruous for a contemporary story published in 1981, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

A group of young London barristers are concerned about their friend Julia, who has gone on holiday to Venice, alone. Apparently Julia is one of those people who trips over things and loses her way and forg
I think I have a new favorite "go-to" book for a fun, humorous, feel-good and yet very well-written and smartly crafted book. The mystery itself is fantastic--there are cleverly placed clues introduced very naturally into the story, and some genuinely crafty but believable twists that make the whodunit pretty darn difficult to guess. But even more fun is the colorful cast of characters that are just bursting with wit, charm, likability and plain, old fun.

The most notable thing for me, though, w
Apr 02, 2012 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-mystery
I FINALLY got my hands on this. *\o/* And it absolutely lived up to expectations. **\o/** Caudwell's novels are unquestionably the BEST when it comes to character and narratorial voice; she doesn't quite have Hilary down in this first of the series, but everyone else is so much themselves that I can overlook that. I love the sex-positivism, I love the literary flourishes, I love the devotion to food, I love the implicit feminism. I love Timothy, whom I do not recall from the other Tamar novels, ...more
Jul 26, 2012 Amanda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
I just really could not get into this series of books, as much as I wanted to like them. There are many, many people who have read them and loved them, but I just didn't. The writing quite honestly gave me a headache and was so heavy handed, I could barely understand what the mystery was supposed to be. That doesn't mean they aren't worth reading, just not for everybody. I do love the cover art on them though, being a big Edward Gorey fan is what induced me to pick up this book in the first plac ...more
Dec 12, 2008 Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such an old favorite. I love this series so much I keep giving away the first book to people to encourage them to read it. At some point I lost track of who had it so I bought myself a new one on amazon and it arrived today. I can't wait to slip back into it.

The "mystery" is not really the draw of the book, it's the wonderful, wonderful characters. I enjoy reading about them so much and they make me laugh out loud sometimes. British humor at its best!
Dec 16, 2008 Jorn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unbelievably charming writing; I could read this sort of thing all day and night. I imagine the quality of writing on display here would appeal only to a person of a certain level of erudition, which is a real shame; I'd prefer it get around rather more than it currently does.

I emphatically and desperately recommend this book for anyone whose heart is warmed by a bit of dry British humo(u)r.
May 14, 2007 Krystal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, favorites, cozy
First (and best) of Sarah Cauldwell's deliciously sarcastic books about a group of young lawyers in Lincoln's Inn, as told by Hilary Tamar, professor of medieval contract law. Sadly, Sarah Cauldwell died after writing only 4 books so savor them as you read! Makes me laugh
Feb 17, 2009 Julia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first paragraph of this book might be my favorite paragraph ever written. In a mystery. After 1945. LOVE her writing.
Carey Combe
The epistolary style bugged me at the beginning, but I enjoyed the dry humour and the rather 'ghastly; characters. Worth trying her next...
Frivolous but not lacking in charm or interest. More of a puzzlement than a mystery. Enjoyed the nod to the epistolary form of old.
Feb 11, 2008 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this series. Brilliantly written, quirky mysteries penned by an author with a keen eye for social dynamics. Highly recommended.
Elizabeth Smith
Jun 30, 2014 Elizabeth Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such cleverness and irony. Fun on every page.
Peggi Warner-lalonde
An entertaining read.
Lauren Fidler
god bless the british and their dry, erudite sense of humor. they can seriously say some of the crassest things in the nicest sounding ways.

in all fairness, this novel is a bit slow starting. it took me about 100 pages to really get into the cadence of the text, which, in a pulp-mystery, isn't necessarily ideal. however, once things really got moving, i was completely sucked in to hilary's "investigation" and couldn't wait for the next installment of letters to continue furthering the plot.

Moira Fogarty
Apr 07, 2013 Moira Fogarty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, comedy
Excellent good fun! I tried to read this once before and stopped after a pitiable four of five pages because the prose was too dense and academic for my state of mind at the time. If I had only had someone to urge me on to the completion of Chapter Two, which includes a hilarious letter from the accused, I would have seen the lighter side of Caudwell's tale of murder and art history, and persevered.

Alas, I had no such guide, and wasted several years having this book sit on my shelf unread and u
Laura Hughes
Jul 27, 2016 Laura Hughes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
There's a lot to like about Sarah Caudwell's series of mystery novels involving perpetually drunk tax lawyers. I like the way it introduces obscure tax laws, and then they become important parts of the plot. I find taxes really interesting so that is a total plus for me. I like the descriptions of male beauty (especially present in this volume), and the way women are active characters who take what they want, with men more often relegated to the sex object role. Although gay relationships are sp ...more
Mar 02, 2013 Colleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first of the four Hilary Tamar mysteries written by Caudwell. I had previously read "The Shortest Way To Hades" and loved it. How could you not love a book that is intelligent and witty with lots of literary references thrown in. The dialog is quick, crisp and very British. Some have likened the writing style to Jane Austen. Think of the humor of Bertie Wooster and the charm of a Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie mystery. Third in the series is "The Sirens Sang of Murder", and then " ...more
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Sarah Cockburn (1939-2000) wrote under the pen-name Sarah Caudwell. She was a mystery writer. The four books of her "Hilary Tamar" series are her only novels other than The Perfect Murder which she co-wrote with several other novelists, but she also wrote several short crime stories. She was the half-sister of Alexander Cockburn.

* Hilary Tamar Mystery
More about Sarah Caudwell...

Other Books in the Series

Hilary Tamar (4 books)
  • The Shortest Way to Hades (Hilary Tamar, #2)
  • The Sirens Sang of Murder (Hilary Tamar, #3)
  • The Sibyl in Her Grave (Hilary Tamar, #4)

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“On my first day in London I made an early start. Reaching the Public Record Office not much after ten, I soon secured the papers I needed for my research and settled in my place. I became, as is the way of the scholar, so deeply absorbed as to lose all consciousness of my surroundings or of the passage of time. When at last I came to myself, it was almost eleven and I was quite exhausted: I knew I could not prudently continue without refreshment.” 8 likes
“Julia's unhappy relationship with the Inland Revenue was due to her omission, during four years of modestly successful practice at the Bar, to pay any income tax. The truth is, I think, that she did not, in her heart of hearts, really believe in income tax. It was a subject which she had studied for examinations and on which she had thereafter advised a number of clients: she naturally did not suppose, in these circumstances, that it had anything to do with real life.” 7 likes
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