Jane's Reviews > The Case of the Gilded Fly

The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin
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really liked it
bookshelves: fiction

Where I got the book: purchased used through Amazon. Absolutely marvelous dreadful cover.

Having had a few days to allow this murder mystery to percolate through my brain, I have come to the conclusion that the whole thing is a novel-length p*ss-take of the genre and that the author was laughing up his sleeve at the reader the whole time. Set in Oxford during World War II, the story revolves around a repertory theater group who are putting on--from scratch in one week--a play by a brilliant playwright who is also involved in the production. Bitchy actress Yseut makes trouble for everyone and practices her seductive wiles on as many men as possible, and gets her comeuppance (view spoiler)

We are introduced to the amateur detective Gervase Fen, a professor and literary critic who works out the crime in three minutes and spends the rest of the book dropping hints about how he knows what went on but he's not going to tell anyone until they've worked it out for themselves, neener neener neener. (view spoiler) In the meantime, the rest of the cast and crew get on with the show that must go on, nobody really caring a rat's *ss about the murder victim because she was a beyotch and a ho anyway. Which demonstrates that the author knew a lot about actors.

Fen makes me think of the lead character in the brilliant BBC Sherlock, so irritating he's fascinating (I think the original Sherlock was supposed to be that way, but time has hallowed him). The supporting cast is fairly unmemorable, except for Mrs. Fen whom I adore utterly. The "official" detective--whose passion is for literary criticism--is an absolutely brilliant idea, but he's not rounded out well enough for me.

Yep, I honestly think that everything I found annoying about this book was put there on purpose to annoy. I think Crispin was having his bit o' fun with us stupid readers. When he makes Fen say, mid-book, "In fact I'm the only literary critic turned detective in the whole of fiction", I think he's showing us right there that his intention is to subvert the murder mystery genre rather than add to it.

The writing, on the other hand, was superb and often very funny. Crispin displays very little sympathy for the world he describes and the people in it; he's laughing AT everyone, I swear.

This book may get a re-read just because. In the meanwhile, my feelings about a rating hover between a 3 (for being bloody annoying) and a 5 (for being a bloody good writer). Let's just call it a 4 and have done with it.
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Reading Progress

May 3, 2011 – Shelved
May 3, 2011 – Shelved as: fiction
August 12, 2012 – Started Reading
August 12, 2012 –
page 11
5.29% "We are amused."
August 12, 2012 –
page 14
6.73% "To a considerable extent we are all of necessity preoccupied with ourselves, but with her the preoccupation was exclusive, and largely of a sexual nature into the bargain."
August 12, 2012 –
page 22
10.58% "In the bar and lounge, the civilized prolegomena to sex operated a restrained, objectionable puppet-show... This book is way too quotable."
August 13, 2012 –
page 62
29.81% ""In fact I'm the only literary critic turned detective in the whole of fiction."\n \n And with that sentence, my perspective on this book suddenly changes. The author is drawing our attention to the fact that we're reading fiction, which is tricky. I'm not sure whether I like this or not."
August 15, 2012 –
page 128
61.54% "The way the police constantly admit Nigel into their investigations is disconcerting."
August 15, 2012 –
page 132
63.46% "Helen doesn't get to identify her sister's body until the inquest about a week after her death. I hope they have good cold storage."
August 15, 2012 –
page 138
66.35% ""Every suggestion of improvement or modernization was grimly resisted by the management, which consisted of a large, ancient man manifestly disintegrating at a great rate into his component chemical elements."\n \n Severely tempted to steal that description for use in one of my own novels, because it made me giggle like a fool."
August 16, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim Great review, Jane. I'm not sure that I buy that the whole thing is a set-up to annoy readers, although I guess that may be consistent with the obvious post-modern touches.


Jane I will probably read some more Gervase Fen books to see if they bear out my theory.


Jemidar All I can say is that if he set out to annoy his readers, well then he succeeded!


message 4: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Great review, thanks for sharing Jane.


Tracey Top hole, old bean! I rounded down...


message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Ah, made me want to give the book a try.


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