I’ve been reading Edmund Crispin–I’m going through a British mystery binge–and I’d forgotten how wonderfully off-the-wall Glimpses of the Moon is. The detective, Gervase Fen, wanders about an English village with his friend the Major and a confused journalist, idly questioning colorful locals about a murder that’s already been solved, carrying a pig’s head in a bag at all times, until he finally, on page 51, arrives home alone, and looks in the mirror:
“He paused by the mirror, from which, not unexpectedly, his own face looked out at him. In the fifteen years since his last appearance, he seemed to have changed very little. Peering at his image now, he saw the same tall lean body, the same ruddy, scrubbed-looking, clean-shaven face, the same blue eyes, the same brown hair ineffectually plastered down with water, so that it stood up in a spike at the crown of his head. Somewhere or other he still had his extraordinary hat. Good. At this rate, he felt, he might even live to see the day when novelists described their characters by some other device that that of manoeuvering them into examining themselves in mirrors.”
It’s a slow-moving intro, but I don’t care because I get omniscient reporting of interior monologue like this:
“The veal-and-ham pie at The Standbury Arms had been because of missing breakfast. Digesting it was deterring Fen from lunch. He decided to do without lunch, a policy he would regret around about mid-afternoon. He felt like a hero continually arriving a good deal too late to save a succession of women in distress.”
Even the murder mystery is relaxed. The victim is a thoroughly horrible person, so we don’t have to mourn him. As the Rector says, “I don’t approve of speaking ill of people. On the other hand, if you didn’t speak ill of Routh, you’d never mention him at all.” Unlike most mystery plots that blaze a straight trail to the identification of the murderer, this one wanders down bypaths, stop for a drink and a sandwich, gazes out over the horizon, and then stumbles over the murderer at the end. The murderer is a thoroughly bad lot, too. It’s lovely. And the whole thing is told in omniscient viewpoint, so you get the effect of somebody lazily telling a story on a warm summer afternoon.
In other words, this is the perfect kind of book to read on a warm summer afternoon. It’s in no hurry to get anywhere, but it’s enormous fun in its leisurely journey. Especially when, on page 128, Fen finally opens the bag with the pig’s head.
(Note: I think this is the best of his books, the last one, written fifteen years after the previous one. Some of the others are more annoying.)