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The Case of the Gilded Fly (The First Gervase Fen Mystery) Paperback – June 1, 2005

3.9 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews
Book 1 of 11 in the Gervase Fen Mysteries Series

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Edmund Crispin was the pseudonym of Bruce Montgomery, an English crime writer and composer. He graduated from St John's College, Oxford, in 1943, with a BA in modern languages, having for two years been its organist and choirmaster. From 1943 to 1945 he taught at Shrewsbury School and in 1944 published the first of nine Gervase Fen novels, The Case of the Gilded Fly. He became a well respected reviewer of crime, writing for the Sunday Times from 1967 until his death in 1978. He also composed the music for many of the Carry On films. From the original editions: 'Edmund Crispin's recreations are swimming, excessive smoking, Shakespeare, the operas of Wagner and Strauss, idleness and cats. His antipathies are dogs, the French Film, the Renaissance of the British Film, psychoanalysis, the psychological-realistic crime story and the contemporary theatre.' --This text refers to the Digital edition.

Review

"Immensely witty and literate" --The New York Times
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 241 pages
  • Publisher: Felony & Mayhem; First Edition edition (June 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933397004
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933397009
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #468,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By ealovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Edmund Crispin (pseudonym for Bruce Montgomery) wrote "The Case of the Gilded Fly" in 1944 while he was still an undergraduate at St. John's College, Oxford. It features the advent of Gervase Fen, Professor of English Language and Literature, and amateur detective extraordinaire. Another of my favorite characters, the deaf and possibly senile Professor Wilkes also appears for the first time and tells a ghost story right before the first murder occurs. A story within a story. A mystery within a mystery.
Fen solves both the mystery of the Gilded Fly, and the mystery within the ghost story.
Crispin specialized in creating 'impossible' murders for his Oxford don to investigate. A murder usually acquires the label 'impossible' at the death scene, when someone blurts out, "No one could have gotten past the gate keeper (or into the locked room or through the sky light). This is impossible!"
In "The Case of the Gilded Fly," we have:
"...Accident practically impossible. And murder, apparently, quite impossible. So the only conclusion is---
"The only conclusion is," put in the Inspector, "that the thing never happened at all."
Now Fen is off and running! A whole troupe of actors and actresses had motives for killing their colleague, and all of them (of course) have alibis.
The story begins when playwright Robert Warner mounts his latest experimental drama at the Oxford Repertory Theatre. His previous play bombed in London and he wants to try out "Metromania" in the provinces before opening it on the West End. His current mistress accompanies him to Oxford, and he unwisely gives his former mistress a role in his new play. Both ladies have other admirers. Their admirers have admirers.
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Format: Paperback
It has been a long time since I first read The Case of the Gilded Fly and I'm really glad that I found some time to sit down and enjoy it again after all these years. That is one of the things I love so much about these old, classic mysteries. No matter how much time has passed the story always seems just as exciting as it was the first time around. Modern mystery writers could do themselves a huge favor by immersing themselves in writings of the 1930's, 40's and 50's.

Gervase Fen is an Oxford don who specializes in English literature but really wants to work on murder cases. His longtime friend, Sir Richard Freeman, Chief Constable of Oxford, really wanted to study and critique English literature. These two made wonderful counterpoints because they both wanted to concentrate most on the thing the other did for a living. These two characters are wonderfully written by Edmund Crispin. Mainly, for me, because we get to see the best of both professions but given to us from the point of view of the character we would not necessarily expect.

The book opens in a most clever way. All the characters make the railway journey from London to Oxford within days of each other. Each is described during the train trip in wonderful detail concerning their reasons for going to Oxford and the reader is thoroughly acquainted with the characters by the time they all arrive at their destination. Because of the abrasive nature of one character, it is pretty obvious who the murder victim will be but Crispin takes his time leading up to the murder. By the time it happens, you are very much in sympathy with whoever decided to do this person in and Fen's quandry about whether or not to prove the person guilty is rather easy to understand.
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This is typical Crispin, with the added joy of a glimpse into the inner workings of an English repertory company putting together a new play. I deducted a star because of Crispin's compulsive use of obscure words, but I must admit I like his books partly because of his precise, loving use of the English language. Without the Kindle's instant access to the dictionary, it'd be irritating, and even with the dictionary you don't always get a definition because the words are so very obscure. Other than that, it's a by-the-numbers Golden Age mystery that should satisfy fans who love Christie, etc.
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A wildly unpopular actress is murdered in Oxford. No one is especially sorry that Yseut Haskell is dead, and no one seems all that willing to track down her killer. Everyone is happy to profess their hatred of Yseut. Literature professor Gervase Fen knows immediately who the killer is, but that will stay under wraps until the end of the book. The mystery is a closed-room case. It seems like no one could have gotten into the room to shoot Yseut.

This is not necessarily a remarkably unique closed-room case. It relies heavily on the characters to carry it along. I rather enjoyed the university setting of the book. Fen is certainly not my favorite literary academic, but he's well-drawn enough to keep me entertained. I was less interested in the world of the theater. Actors can be very tiresome. I'm hoping that the later installments in this series dispense with the theater and focus on the university
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The setting in a company of actors makes this story a headache. They are all egocentric and annoying. You don't care about the victim and only a bit about the detective. Gervase Fen is not as funny as the author thinks he is.
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