All things considered, it was a very good thing indeed that Oxford Professor Gervase Fen was on hand. Fen had been invited by his friend, the headmaster of Castrevenford School, an English "public" school for boys, to help hand out prizes at the school's annual Speech Day ceremonies. That's why Fen was on hand when word came that one of the students at the Castrevenford High School for Girls, 16-year-old Brenda Boyce, had disappeared. A boy friend might have been involved, but the girl's parents insisted their daughter had seemed badly frightened at dinner the previous night. So Fen, a man with considerable experience at solving difficult crimes, offered to help - and had no sooner done so than a couple of murders were discovered. The investigation would uncover a great many secrets and a fantastic motive for murder. It happens in Love Lies Bleeding, by Edmund Crispin, and it is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
Love Lies Bleeding, originally published in 1948, was the fifth of Edmund Crispin’s mysteries, all of which feature Gervase Fen, an Oxford professor who becomes involved in difficult, often seemingly impossible, murder cases. He is on hand at Castrevenford School when Brenda Boyce disappears – and there is word that somebody has stolen some powerful chemicals from the school’s chemistry lab. There’s every reason to think the two events may be related. The local police, led by Superintendent Stagge, are very glad for Fen’s presence, for – in a very short time – it becomes clear that they are dealing with at least two murders as well as Brenda Boyce’s disappearance and the theft of the dangerous chemicals.
As usual with a Crispin novel, the plot is complex and the characters fascinating. I am particularly fond of the inappropriately named Mr. Merrythought, an elderly bloodhound who, according to the headmaster, has occasional fits of homicidal mania. Because it is by Crispin, the book is filled with literary quotes and jokes (many of them quite unexplained and uncredited). It also manages to switch without warning between scenes that are genuinely funny and some that are really quite horrifying; let me warn you that some of the events in the book are both dark and disturbing. I would recommend other books if you're new to Crispin (and to Fen): The Moving Toyshop, for instance, or my own favorite, Swan Song. But this is still a first-rate mystery, well plotted and executed. I do recommend it very highly to you.