Review: Thus Was Adonis Murdered, Sarah Caudwell

Let it not be said that I do not take instruction. Proper Jenny – whom I’ve now met, hooray! – announced that all must read and adore Sarah Caudwell, and I hied me to PaperbackSwap posthaste to acquire said Caudwell’s four mystery novels, which were not available at my library. The books all match, and the covers were done by Edward Gorey, so if I was ever not going to like them, it wouldn’t be down to aesthetic considerations.

However, I don’t think I was ever not going to like them. I have a sense that they are going to become the sort of book I read when I have a terrible nightmare and can’t go back to sleep. I have put this to the test once already. The other night I dreamed that every book I opened was swarming with insects, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep because I felt like things were crawling on me. So I got up and put the light on and read Thus Was Adonis Murdered.

Thus Was Adonis Murdered is the first of four murder mysteries about four barristers and their friend, a professor of medieval law and unknown gender. They are all extremely cheerful, and knowledgeable about tax dodges and inheritances, and one of them, impractical Julia, has just gone away for a holiday in Italy. Having undergone a very stressful year dealing with her income taxes, Julia is determined to find relaxation in the form of attractive young men. But! Alas! Instead of any relaxation whatsoever, she finds herself, poor dear, accused of murdering one of the people on her trip, a young man from Inland Revenue. And so her friends must endeavor to clear her name.

Apart from the fact that my dream had made me paranoid about reading anything, this was the perfect post-nightmare book. There were plenty of suspects (but not too many), ironically deployed intellectual snobbery, and a nice clean solution. Nothing was taken too seriously, so I didn’t have to think depressing thoughts about Amanda Knox and the Italian justice system. It was much more like, Tra la la, what a scrape Julia’s gotten herself into! Whatever will she do next, poor lamb?

Meanwhile the writing made me giggle. Lo:

I don’t know what it is about Julia. She only has to sit back and look helpless — which, God knows, I admit she is — and some misguided girl turns up and starts taking care of her. It’s just like a baby cuckoo. What a baby cuckoo does is get itself hatched in someone else’s nest. Then it just sits there with its beak open, looking hungry. And the birds the nest belongs to, instead of chucking it over the edge, get this irresistible urge to shovel food down it. Same effect as Julia has on girls.

Teehee. Apart from the gender-specific nature of Julia’s helpers, this passage perfectly describes Social Sister; though Social Sister is, of course, not at all the sort of helpless, common-senseless type that Julia is. Here is a theory by one of the barristers, Cantrip (just a theory, not spoilers):

Then he weasels into the annexe with a view to knocking off the rococo armchair or whatever it is. Only the chap from Revenue comes back unexpectedly and catches him at it. Threatens to call the fuzz. The Bruce chap pleads with him a bit, I expect, says he’s got a wife and five kids and so on and they’ve got no armchairs to sit on. But it’s no good, because chaps from the Revenue are specially trained not to listen to hard-luck stories.

Cantrip is my favorite. More Cantrip! I am very willing to like Ragwort as well. If he takes center stage I will be pleased about it, for I anticipate many delightful jokes about his Byronic profile. I always enjoy a good joke at the expense of those with Byronic profiles. Speaking of profiles:

I was not unduly surprised by the suggestion [that one of the other characters might be queer]; it is almost invariably the first thing said about men with profiles by men without profiles. Indeed, it is a benevolent dispensation of Providence that those who express most dread of an unorthodox advance are usually those whom Nature has most effectively protected from any risk of one.

Anyway I’ve ordered the other Caudwell books on PaperbackSwap now, and a very good use of my credits I think it will be. They match, did I mention? Thanks, Proper Jenny!

Other readers:

Desperate Reader

You go read it too! Then come back and link me to your review. More Sarah Caudwell fans is what I desire!

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28 thoughts on “Review: Thus Was Adonis Murdered, Sarah Caudwell

    • I hope you like it! I read the last one today and liked it also and now I am trying to talk myself into not reading the second and third right away, I think they would be nice books to have in reserve for a depressing day.

  1. I love this series – only I’d read them all before I started blogging. Your review reminds me that rereading is always an option… But anyway, they make me laugh, often and muchly.

  2. Ooh, I wonder if our library has them? Also, a word to the wise: sometimes the books you get from Pswap do not match their pictured covers. So do not weep if that happens.

    • Our library does have them. The New York library has them too, as long as you don’t mind sitting around in the library reading them there. You can’t check them out. I miss the library at home.

    • Hahahah, I know, the Edward Gorey cover totally sold me. I was on PaperbackSwap trying to decide if I should order them or live without them, and the Gorey covers decided me.

  3. Argh! This sounds like exactly my sort of mystery, and my library doesn’t have it! (Or most of Sarah Caudwell’s other novels, for that matter. They claim to own three copies of THE SIBYL IN HER GRAVE, and that’s it.) I shall add it to my list of things to search for a the used bookstore and on BookMooch, though.

  4. Oh, these do sound like fun! I like books that have a sense of humor, and from all the passages that you pointed out, I would say that the book really does have a lot of that going for it. Normally, I wouldn’t have picked up this book, but due to your enticing review and the quotes that you’ve peppered here, I am going to have to find these. Lets hope that I can get the ones with the matching Gorey covers!

  5. I loved this book right up to the final ten pages or so. Maybe Dorothy L. Sayers ruined me for every other amusing mystery novel? :/

    • Do you think this is the same as Dorothy Sayers? I mean I’d put Dorothy Sayers in a whole different category, because Gaudy Night is JUST SO GREAT. I think of this author as sort of like, I dunno, Clyde Edgerton? Someone like that? Amusing and light and fun.

  6. Yes, drink the wine now. It’s like eating dessert first and all that jazz. Who knows when you might be feeling blue again and if the wine is already opened, then it would go to waste. Unless you can must psych yourself to drink wine only when feeling blue (and I must protest this thought), thus declare yourself as blue-feeling and be sure to drink responsibly.
    Sounds like a lovely book/series. That was some scary dream. Ick.

    • Hahahah, Care, that is the best reason not to save up wine that I’ve ever heard. I will now use it to justify my wine intake. (Don’t worry, I am an extremely responsible drinker.)

  7. I’m so delighted that you liked this one! I know you’re not always a fan of mysteries, so I’m completely pleased that this one was Just Right.

    What a *horrible* dream.

  8. Pingback: REVIEW: Thus Was Adonis Murdered – Sarah Caudwell | Ela's Book Blog

  9. I am very late, but I wanted to thank you for alerting me to this series! I ordered The Shortest Way to Hades from the Book Depository, because they only had that one and The Sibyl in Her Grave with the Edward Gorey cover. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m enjoying it so much that yesterday I ordered the other three books. (Fortunately Amazon Germany has all the Edward Gorey editions!)

  10. Found your website when I was doing a general search on Sarah C – curious about one thing…

    Why did you choose the photo at the top of the page??

    I was lucky enough to be a neighbour and enjoyed several evenings in her company – and funnily enough we never talked about her writing (lost opportunities are never apparent until they fade from memory and then resurrected by chance)

    After she died, I went to an event at which friends and acquaintances met at a club on Pall Mall (think it was the Reform Club) and had a wonderful afternoon where people just went up to a microphone and recounted a past encounter with Sarah – a great idea that I’ve never seen repeated

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