|Hooray! There is a new edition, |
after 34 years, of Murder Fantastical
courtesy of Felony & Mayhem
Murder Fantastical concerns the eccentric Manciple family, of the ghastly Victorian pile Cregwell Grange in the village of Cregwell in Fenshire (not far removed from London: Essex, perhaps?) and the queer death of objectionably nouveau riche Raymond Mason--a bookie, if you please, who has the effrontery to manicure the nails on his provokingly stubby fingers and, worse yet, "to pay cash on the barrelhead" to local tradesmen--unlike the real gentry of course!
|American pb edition, 1984,|
part of a splendid series by Owl
On the first page of the novel, John Adamson, Chief Constable of Fenshire and owner of Cregwell Manor, is rung up by George Manciple, who tells Adamson in his circuitous way that Mason has been shot dead in the driveway of the Grange. At the time George was out firing on his gun range, but he insists that he was not the one who potted the poor bookie, despite the fact that he, George, was most decidedly not getting along with his nettlesome new neighbor.
In the classic manner of Golden Age British mystery, the locals want nothing to do with this case involving local bigwigs (even if they're financially imperiled ones), which brings in Chief Superintendent Henry Tibbett of the Yard, Patricia Moyes' clever sleuth in all nineteen of her detective novels.
It also brings in Henry's keen wife, Emmy, who Henry always seems to bring along with him on his investigations, for no really plausible reason that I can see, aside from giving readers a female investigator as well as a male one, in those days when women did not occupy high ranks in law enforcement. (He's not the first fictional Yard man to do this, however.)
As Moyes puts it, "Emmy was allowed to come along [ostensibly to visit an old school friend, wife of the local medico] on condition that she kept well out of the way of all police activity." Okay, sure. Emmy adds to the book, however, getting some helpful gossip and playing a role at the climax of the novel. (At the village fete, of course--you knew there would have to be a fete, and quite a fete it is.) The Tibbett series benefits from her presence as something beyond the stereotypical "supportive wife."
Emmy's help is especially welcome, because on the day of Mason's suspicious slaying, the Grange was more crowded than usual, providing numerous suspects for the consideration of Henry (and, happily, the reader). Besides George and Violet (who has to do the housekeeping and cooking herself, for the most part; there's a splendid feminist passage about this I may quite in a future post), there are:
|You gotta get a pretty girl on the|
cover! early Ballantine pb ed.
George's brothers, Sir Claude Manciple, distinguished director of an atomic research station (he seems surprisingly normal), and Edwin, crossword and clarinet playing retired Bishop of Bugolaland, in Aftrica (he's an odd duck indeed)
Sir Claud's nature faddist wife, Lady Ramona
George and Violet's beautiful and brilliant daughter, Maud, lately hired by Sir Claude
Maud's dapper and double-handled fiancee Julian Manning-Richards ("he comes form Bugolaland...of fine old Imperial stock")
Then there's Frank Mason, Socialist son of the murdered man (to my mind his thinking is too loose to be dignified, if you will, with the term Marxist), who in the tradition of classic British mystery, is always spouting off about the rights of the working man and is made to look rather an ass for doing so. Take that, you troublesome leftists! To be sure, this is the kind of thing that did tend to turn off people like Raymond Chandler and Julian Symons, but it's much in keeping with classic British mystery tradition.
|American hardcover edition|
if you think this an
absolutely awful cover recall
this was the era of acid and
Yellow Submarine, though
the novel itself could have
been published during
the age of art deco
Fifty years ago Anthony Boucher selected the novel as one of his 13 favorites of 1967 (along with Catherine Aird's A Most Contagious Game, Charlotte Armstrong's Lemon in a Basket and Emma Lathen's Murder Against the Grain); and it's not at all surprising that he did so. The classic crime fiction loving Boucher called it a "faultlessly plotted and clued puzzle, rich in humor, character and sheer Englishness."
While it's not up to the level of Agatha Christie's best work as a puzzle (to be sure, comparatively few books are), it's certainly as "English" as they come, in the sense that fans of classic mystery will readily appreciate--a true Anglophile's delight.
Coming soon: some more on Moyes place in the genre and her background too. How much did Murder Fantastical actually draw on real life?