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!