The Moving Toyshop

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin is utterly fabulous. It cropped up on some list of great sleuthing books a while ago and recently, I decided I needed a random treat. Having forgotten all the details that merited its placement on my Amazon wishlist, I was plunged into a wickedly funny and delicious murder mystery romp that takes place over twenty four hours in Oxford.

The Moving Toyshop is the third in a series of novels featuring Gervase Fen, an Oxford don who evidently solves crimes more often than he lectures or have tutorials with students -- but knowing nothing about Gervase Fen did not hinder me here. The novel opens in 1938 London, with the poet Richard Cadogan trying to coax an advance from his publisher, as he's utterly bored, needs adventure, and has selected Oxford as his holiday destination of choice. After a late-night arrival in Oxford, he stumbles into a toy shop -- and discovers a dead body. (Just accept this ridiculous premise and move on.) After being knocked unconscious and reviving in a broom cupboard only to escape, when Cadogan tries to take the police to the scene of the crime -- the location he distinctly remembers as a toy shop is a grocer's and there is no body to be found. Cadogan seeks out his old schoolmate Fen to help him track down the killer (and the body... and the toy shop...) and a rolicking day of sleuthing ensues.

Now, we all know how much I love Oxford, and if you do, too, then I think you're certain to love this. Cadogan and Fen seem to run over every inch of the place, but there are other things that conspired to make this a new favorite book of mine... for instance, the near bar-fight over Jane Austen. Seriously, I knew before then that I was quite charmed with the book, but at that point, I knew it was fantastic. While sitting in a bar or tied up and held hostage, Cadogan and Fen play games where they name off unreadable classics or insufferable characters that are intended as sympathetic. I'm totally going to start doing this with my friends whenever we find ourselves waiting somewhere. The novel is also in that particular witty style of British novels where every man is a raging homosexual or a rake... and even the rakes seem a bit light in the loafers. The dialogue is fantastic (I don't often underline in my books these days, but there were a few exchanges that I simply knew I'd want to note for later reference) and while the circumstances of the murder mystery are clearly ridiculous, it still makes for a very amusing story.

In short, if you enjoy ridiculous British sleuthing novels, then I'd be surprised if you hadn't read this already -- and if you haven't, you simply must.

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