This week’s BotW is Edmund Crispin’s The Moving Toyshop. I’ve had Crispin recommended to me several times recently and as I come to the end of my Inspector Alleyn marathon I’ve been looking for a new Golden Age author to binge on and I think Crispin could be it. The Case of the Gilded Fly is the first in the Gervase Fen series – but The Long Divorce has also been touted as a good one for me to start with, but I ended up reading The Moving Toyshop because it was available for 99p when I was looking! It’s taken me a few weeks to get around to it, but I’m very glad I did.
First published in 1946, The Moving Toyshop is the third book to feature Gervase Fen, an eccentric Oxford professor and amateur detective. In this book, he finds himself investigating a murder on behalf of a former schoolmate. Late one night on a trip to Oxford, Richard Cadogan stumbled across the body of a woman in a toyshop and is knocked unconscious by a blow to the head. But the next morning the toyshop is a grocers and the police don’t believe him. Gervase and Richard are soon racing around Oxford trying to work out exactly what happened.
This is so much to enjoy in this. The scene at the fairground is excellent, but so is the way it evokes the peculiarities and eccentricities of life in an Oxford college in this era. The mystery is utterly bonkers, but it rattles along so fast that you don’t really notice – or care. In some ways it reminded me a lot of The 39 Steps as much as it did of writers like Sayers and Christie. As promised in the blurb, there’s also a dash of Wodehouse here. They are quirky and something a little bit out of the ordinary run of Golden Age crime. There are a few word choices that are… infelicitous these days, but no more so than you find in many of the other books of the era.
I think I’ll be adding Crispin to my list of authors to look out for in second-hand bookshop, because I love old covers from this era, but if you want to get your hands on The Moving Toyshop now, it’s available on Kindle and Kobo as well as in a modern paperback edition from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones.