This May, we’ll be celebrating an author who really encapsulates the message of our project at Bloomsbury Reader – a ‘forgotten author’, whose wonderful crime fiction might have been lost forever. By re-issuing beautiful titles that have fallen out of print, we save them for a future generation of readers. We’ll be attending CrimeFest in Bristol at the end of May, where we’ll be in attendance at the ‘Lesley Chartaris and Forgotten Authors’ panel – it should be a fascinating discussion, not least because journalist and author Ruth Dudley-Edwards will be speaking about our Featured Author for May, the irrepressible Edmund Crispin. We’ll be tweeting and facebook-ing from the event – we hope to see you there!
“Discretion,” said Fen with great complacency, “is my middle name.” “I dare say. But very few people use their middle names.”
― Beware of the Trains
“As the popularity of science-fiction increases, so inevitably does the volume of clownish imprecation against it.”
Edmund Crispin, born 2 October 1921 – was the pseudonym of Bruce Montgomery, an English crime writer and composer. Montgomery wrote nine detective novels and two collections of short stories under the pseudonym Edmund Crispin (taken from a character in Michael Innes’s Hamlet, Revenge!). The stories feature Oxford don Gervase Fen, who is a Professor of English at the university and a fellow of St Christopher’s College, a fictional institution that Crispin locates next to St John’s College. Fen is an eccentric, sometimes absent-minded, character reportedly based on the Oxford professor W. E. Moore. The whodunit novels have complex plots and fantastic, somewhat unbelievable solutions, including examples of the locked room mystery. They are written in a humorous, literary and sometimes farcical style and contain frequent references to English literature, poetry, and music. They are also among the few mystery novels to break the fourth wall occasionally and speak directly to the audience.
Montgomery had always been a heavy drinker and there was a long gap in his writing during a time when he was suffering from alcohol problems. Otherwise he enjoyed a quiet life (enlivened by music, reading, church-going and bridge) in Totnes, Devon, where he resisted all attempts to develop or exploit the district, and visited London as little as possible. He moved to a new house he had built at Week, a hamlet near near Dartington, in 1964, then married his secretary Ann in 1976, just two years before he died from alcohol-related problems in September 1978.
Montgomery first became established under his own name as a composer of vocal and choral music, including An Oxford Requiem (1951), but later turned to film work, writing the scores for many British comedies of the 1950s. For the Carry On series he composed six scores, ending with Carry On Cruising, including the original Carry On theme subsequently adapted for later films by Eric Rogers.
Montgomery became a close friend of both Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin while he was at Oxford with them in the early 1940s. Larkin said of Montgomery that “Beneath a formidable exterior he had unsuspected depths of frivolity.” In response, Crispin dedicated his third book, The Moving Toyshop (1946), to Philip Larkin “in friendship and esteem” and Larkin is reputed to have assisted with some of the passages on literary criticsm. H.R.F. Keating (another Bloomsbury Reader author), who wrote the entry on Edmund Crispin in the Dictionary of national biography, rated this novel among the hundred best crime and mystery books ever published in his 1987 survey of the genre.