Introduced by P. D. James
Illustrated by A. Richard Allen
P. D. James introduces this edition of Crispin's crime-fiction caper. With lively illustrations by A. Richard Allen.
The improbable has less weight in the City of Oxford than in any other habitable quarter of the globe.
Edmund Crispin was the pseudonym of Bruce Montgomery, a composer and choirmaster who also wrote the scores for numerous films. He had a genius for comedy and the surreal, which finds its finest expression in his stories featuring Gervase Fen. P. D. James named The Moving Toyshop in her top five detective novels, and in this new edition she explores just what makes it so enjoyable a book. The illustrations are by A. Richard Allen, whose style will be familiar from previous Folio editions including Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair. Allen has also drawn a delightful map of Oxford as endpapers to this beautiful edition. For fans of Crispin this will take a treasured place on the shelves; any lovers of detective fiction who have not previously encountered the novels have a treat in store.
Bored by his comfortable existence in St John’s Wood, the poet Richard Cadogan decides to take a short holiday in Oxford. Arriving late at night, he notices a toyshop with an unlocked door, and upstairs he finds an elderly lady who is very clearly dead. He returns with the police – but the toyshop and the body have both vanished.
He turns to the brilliant, if erratic, Gervase Fen, Oxford Professor of English Literature, proud possessor of a dangerous car named Lily Christine III and happy to abandon his undergraduates for an investigation – especially if this can be done in the city’s pubs. Crispin introduces us to a parade of English eccentrics; from the lorry driver who reads D. H. Lawrence and worries that he has lost touch with the grand primeval energy of sex, to the elderly don who steals a bicycle to pursue a suspect into a nude bathing area. Drunken chases and riotous encounters are interspersed with glittering dialogue and a liberal sprinkling of puzzles and literary jokes, making The Moving Toyshop the wittiest detective story from the golden age of mystery writing.
It is difficult to reconcile even fictional murder with humour, but The Moving Toyshop is generally admitted to rank among the most consistently amusing light novels of its time or since. Like many of the books of the Golden Age, and Crispin’s in particular, it is very well written. Academics at Oxford were among the most successful of the Golden Age writers and it sometimes seems that they were fabricating detective mysteries for their own amusement or the entertainment of their friends. Every page of The Moving Toyshop is a delight, as the two amateur detectives, in Fen’s lethal car, hurtle from one adventure to another. One of the funniest moments is when Professor Fen, chasing one of the legatees, a very attractive young woman, insinuates himself into a rehearsal of the University Handel Choir, vigorously conducted by someone who was obviously drawn from life. There Fen hoots loudly but inaccurately among the altos, to the conductor’s disgust and the choir’s discomfort, until he is ordered out.
Like all Crispin’s novels, the plot is complex but the clues to the mystery are provided and the problem can be solved. Above all, The Moving Toyshop is a delight to read and to return to time and time again, and is never likely to lose its place as one of the funniest, most original and entertaining detective novels of the Golden Age and of succeeding generations. The Moving Toyshop remains one of my favourite detective stories.
Edmund Crispin (1921–78) was the pseudonym of Bruce Montgomery. He wrote the first of nine detective novels, The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944), during his Easter vacation while still at university, introducing detective Gervase Fen, who appears in all his novels and many of his short stories. Montgomery was also a composer, of both concert and film music, scoring the early Carry On and Doctor in the House films and composing An Oxford Requiem (1951). In his later years he turned away from writing fiction and instead reviewed crime fiction for the Sunday Times; however, his final novel, The Glimpses of the Moon, appeared in 1976, two years before his death.
P. D. James was born in Oxford in 1920 and educated at Cambridge High School for Girls. From 1949 to 1968 she worked in the National Health Service and subsequently in the Home Office, first in the Police Department and later in the Criminal Policy Department. All that experience has been used in her novels. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Society of Arts, and has served as a governor of the BBC, a member of the Arts Council, where she was Chairman of the Literary Advisory Panel, on the Board of the British Council, and as a magistrate in Middlesex and London. She is an Honorary Bencher of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. She has won awards for crime writing in Britain, the United States, Italy and Scandinavia, including the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award and the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature (US). She has received honorary degrees from seven British universities, was awarded an OBE in 1983, and was created a life peer in 1991. From 1997 to 2013 she was President of the Society of Authors.
A. Richard Allen studied Fine Art (Painting) at Central St Martins College in London, receiving a BA and a Masters Degree. He has worked for numerous UK and US clients in editorial, design and advertising, and has won gold medals from the Association of Illustrators in their annual juried awards. He has also won gold and silver awards from 3x3 and the Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles and New York, and has been recognised by Communication Arts. For The Folio Society Richard has previously illustrated Brat Farrar (2010) and Lucky Jim (2012). He lives and works in Bournemouth.
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