” You see, they couldn’t have known you were going to blunder in. You’re the fly in the ointment. The groceries were removed, and the toys substituted, for some entirely different purpose. Then they had to be switched back again, in any case. ” (Ch.2, p.30)
The Moving Toyshop doesn’t disappoint. It certainly lives up to its accolade—thrice listed in the Top 100 Crime & Mystery Books. At its heart is the queer, absurd disappearance of a toyshop visited in midnight Oxford, which is explained with perfect plausibility by the time of the denouement. The quirky premise alone is enough to pique my interest. It almost reads like a modern-day farce but with very clever play on words.
In need of a vacation, the poet Richard Cadogan is strained at the train station. During his walk to town he stumbles upon a toyshop that piques his curiosity. Upon entering, he finds the body of an elderly woman with a pool of dried blood on the floor by her head. Before he can make of the scene, he is hit on the head. Few hours later, after daybreak, he returns with professor Gervase Fen, an old friend with a penchant for investigating unusual crimes, and finds that the toyshop has disappeared and been replaced with a grocery store.
Yes, yes. I see what you mean. ‘Ryan, Leeds, West, Mold, Berlin.’ Some fantastic method of designating people by means of limericks. (Ch.4, p.66)
The pair goes off a rather convoluted route to reach the truth, not without getting themselves in trouble with the police. The plot is absurd but engaging enough. It’s outlandishly adventurous. It doesn’t surprise me that the victim of murder is a designated beneficiary of a huge fortune. What does is all the obscure circumstances by which Miss Emilia Tardy becomes the legacy recipient and sadly, the target of conspirators. Obviously it’s Gervase Fen who steals the show (the book is subtitled Gervase Fen Mystery #3). He sets about solving the mind-boggling crime with his intuition, wits, and common sense, of which Cadogan is compromised by his macabre encounter with the corpse under the hideous circumstances. Fen tosses in various literary references and quotations along the way, including a very significant, but obscure clues based on Edward Lear’s limericks, which hint at a clairvoyant group of suspects.
The Moving Toyshop is full of charm and surprises. At times you must wonder who committed the murder, but that’s not the point. Mostly, it’s just pure entertainment, a rambunctious farce so well larded with literary allusions and aspersions. It’s not your conventional whodunit but rather a fun journey. The writing is delightful and witty. Ultimately much of the deeper mystery about the toyshop in question and the basic motives are settled halfway through with a short suspect list that eventually narrows down to one.I also like how each chapter is titled an episode and reads like a little story with very wise literary interjections. *Edmund Crispin’s real name was Bruce Montgomery.
205 pp. Vintage UK. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]