The Moving Toyshop (Gervase Fen 3) by Edmund Crispin

Murder Stalks The University!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Poet Richard Cadogan decides he needs a break from routine so heads to Oxford. As he walks along a street at night looking at the window displays of the closed shops, he notices the door of a toyshop is open. His curiosity gets the better of him so he enters, but is shocked to find the corpse of a woman lying on the floor. Before he has the chance to leave the shop to report what looks like a murder, he is hit on the head and falls unconscious. When he comes round some time later he finds himself locked in a cupboard, but manages to make his escape and go to the police. However when they return with him to the spot, not only has the corpse disappeared but the whole shop has gone, and in its place is a grocer’s shop! Not unnaturally, the police have difficulty believing his story after this, so he turns to his old friend, the amateur sleuth and university professor, Gervase Fen…

This is one of those crime novels that goes way beyond the credibility line, but makes up for its general silliness by being a whole lot of fun. Due to an unfortunate mistake, Cadogan is soon wanted by the police for stealing from the grocer’s shop, so all the time he and Fen are racing round Oxford pursuing their investigations, the local police are racing around too, pursuing Cadogan! Fen tries to get his old friend the Chief Constable to call them off, but the Chief Constable is far more interested in discussing the themes of Measure for Measure – well, it is Oxford after all, where even the truck drivers read DH Lawrence…

He felt about him and produced a greasy edition of Sons and Lovers for general inspection, then he put it away again. “We’ve lorst touch,’ he continued, ‘with sex – the grand primeval energy; the dark, mysterious source of life. Not,’ he added confidentially, ‘that I’ve ever exactly felt that – beggin’ your pardon – when I’ve been in bed with the old woman. But that’s because industrial civilisation ‘as got me in its clutches.’

Challenge details:
Book: 49
Subject Heading: Making Fun of Murder
Publication Year: 1946

Fen is somewhat eccentric to say the least, and does his detection through a series of brilliant deductions well beyond the scope of us mere mortals, aided by large dollops of luck and coincidence. In fact, I can’t say I ever had much of an idea why exactly the villains had gone to such elaborate lengths to complicate a murder that should really have been pretty easy, but given their efforts to baffle and confuse, it’s just as well Fen is on hand to jump to the correct conclusions! He gradually involves his students as a kind of informal mob of enforcers, which might have worked out better if there weren’t quite so many bars in Oxford. Their ham-fisted efforts to help catch the bad guys add a lot to the farcical feel of the thing.

It’s very well written and full of humour. Cadogan and Fen make a great duo as they bicker their way through the investigation, filling in any lulls by playing literary games with each other, such as naming the most unreadable books of all time. (I was pleased to see Ulysses made the list, but was shocked that Moby-Dick didn’t get a mention!) It occasionally takes on a surreal quality when Fen makes it clear he knows he’s a character in a book…

‘Murder Stalks the University,’ said Fen. ‘The Blood on the Mortarboard. Fen Strikes Back.’
‘What’s that you’re saying?’ Cadogan asked in a faint, rather gurgling voice.
‘My dear fellow, are you all right? I was making up titles for Crispin.’

Edmund Crispin

As a little added bonus, I was thrilled to read the part of the book that inspired the brilliant fairground scene in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train – one of my favourite films, largely because of that finale.

A thoroughly entertaining read, and I look forward to improving my acquaintance with Crispin and Fen in the future. Highly recommended.

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29 thoughts on “The Moving Toyshop (Gervase Fen 3) by Edmund Crispin

  1. This is a fun one, isn’t it, FictionFan? I think the wit is what I like best about Crispin’s Fen series. And the occasional brilliant turn of phrase is great, too. As you say, it’s over the top. But if you go along for the ride, it’s a great experience. And this is an interesting mystery. Glad you enjoyed it!


    • This is the first one I’ve read, so it was a great introduction! I loved all the literary references – not too highbrow for us common people to get… 😉 And I loved the fairground scene – despite all the fun, he could write a great action scene too! Must read more… *sighs*

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m delighted that you enjoyed this one so much too – it is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year, so much fun (and surreal in places) with brilliant characters – Like you I want to read more by this author.


    • Everyone who’s mentioned reading it has said they’ve loved it, and that doesn’t happen too often! Haha – the good thing about these vintage crimes is that they’re shorter, so they don’t take up much room… enjoy! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Madame B! I’m not always good with these kinds of romps so it’s a real tribute to him that he carried me with him. I loved all the literary stuff and the fairground scene was brilliantly done – no wonder Hitchcock pinched it! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this too so I’m pleased it gets the full five stars from you! It’s one of those books where you can tell the author had fun writing it. I can’t remember much about the actual mystery now, but I enjoyed the literary games and the clues based on limericks!


    • Yes, you could tell he was enjoying himself, and I loved when he put in little bits showing Fen knew he was in a book! And I enjoyed the games, especially since he didn’t go too highbrow with them as a lot of Golden Age authors are tempted to do. The DH Lawrence-reading truck driver had me howling, and seriously wanting to re-read Sons and Lovers! 😉


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