EDMUND CRISPIN – The Glimpses of the Moon. Gervase Fen #10 (including one collection). Gollancz, UK, hardcover, 1977. Walker, US, hardcover, 1978. Avon, US, reprint paperback; 1st printing August 1979. Felony & Mayhem, US, softcover, 2012
In a a recent issue of Fatal Kiss, my otherwise splendiferous contribution to DAPA-Em, I thoughtlessly mentioned in passing that I could not think of a mystery I had recently read that was funny to laugh at as well as fun to read. Almost immediately Charlotte MacLeod’s Professor Shandy books were pointed out to me. I’ve read only the first one, that being Rest You Merry, and I shouldn’t have forgotten it. The second, The Luck Runs Out, and it is near to top of my must-read pile.
But, Ms MacLeod’s efforts in the limited world of comedy detective fiction notwithstanding, I’m forced to say that The Glimpses of the Moon is absolutely the funniest detective story I’ve ever read.
Everyone in it is quite bonkers, you understand, and that’s the kind of humor it is. From Gobbo, the drooling local village idiot, on down. The arthritic Major, whose tone-deafness does nothing to inhabit his singing voice when it comes to the lyrical sensitivity of his favorite TV jingles. The innkeeper whose avocation it is to live abed three quarters or more of the day. And this only Chapter One, the tip of the iceberg.
Even Gervase Fen is only mildly astonished to find that the head of a pig he has carried around with him all day suddenly turns out to be the battered head of a corpse.
Or take Chapter Eleven, for example. It begins with Fen and the Major sitting together in an apple tree, the better to view the proceedings below, involving a herd of recalcitrant cows, a motorcycle scramble, several members of he local anti-hunt league, the rector and a thief, and … I guess you just have to read it to believe it.
The murders, for yes, there are some, are of a rather bizarre nature, involving not only decapitation, but a limb-proving as well. And there’s a “locked room” mystery to boot. How did the murderer get the missing arm out of the tent?
The motivation is perhaps a unique one. What else could it be in a wacky affair like this but rather unusual, to say the least?
(To be honest, if you were to force me to, I think Crispin lets the story run away with itself a little too often. Take P. G. Wodehouse, for example,to show us how such nuttiness can be kept under tight, tight control.)
–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February 1981.