On the eighth day of Bookgiving, my true love gave to me:
The Moving Toyshop, by Edmund Crispin.
It is always wise to be careful what you wish for. Richard Cadogan, a successful poet, wishes for a little adventure in his humdrum life. He gets it, all right, when he sets off for Oxford on vacation. Through a series of misadventures, he is forced to walk into town in the middle of the night. Along the way, he passes a small toyshop. On impulse, he tries the door handle. It is unlocked. He wanders inside the apparently deserted shop. Eventually, he goes upstairs – and discovers the body of a woman who appears to have been strangled. He is then hit over the head. When he recovers, a few hours later, he finds himself locked in a small room downstairs – but the window is open. He makes his escape, walks the rest of the way into Oxford, and goes to the police. But when he and the police return to the scene of the crime, they find that the body has disappeared – and, more to the point, so has the toyshop. Instead, there is a small grocer’s store on the premises. Fortunately, Cadogan has a good friend at Oxford in the person of English professor Gervase Fen, and the two men set out to investigate…well, to investigate what? Was there a murder? Was there really a toyshop?
I think The Moving Toyshop has just about anything a classic mystery lover could want – humor, fairness, a convoluted plot, a seemingly inexplicable situation (including an impossible murder), and a very skillful manipulation of the reader’s sympathies. It is probably the most widely known of Crispin's books. He was an expert at mixing genuinely horrifying scenes with hilarious episodes, and the sudden shifts in tone may catch you without warning. It's definitely a good introduction to Crispin and to other writers, like Michael Innes or even Gladys Mitchell, who also were able to balance their very clever mysteries with wild humor.
(If you came in late, here's what we're doing - I hope you'll join in!)