Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin
Bruce Montgomery was the real name of the detective novelist Edmund Crispin, who wrote his first novel while he was still an undergraduate at Oxford. I read his most famous book, The Moving Toyshop, when I was about 14, some time before I thought about going to university. It's a book full of high spirits, which makes good use of the Oxford setting. It appealed to me more than Gaudy Night, that's for sure.
Crispin was influenced by John Dickson Carr, rather more than by Michael Innes, who wrote even more stories with an Oxford background, and I must say Carr is more to my taste than Innes, because the mystery plots are more compelling. But Crispin produced nothing for many years, and when his amateur sleuth Gervase Fen finally reappeared, I found The Glimpses of the Moon a sad disappointment.
David Whittle's sympathetic biography, Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin: a life in music and books, explains the downward trajectory of his subject's life. He was an alcoholic, who suffered a good deal of ill health in his later years. It's a sad story, and his rather inept love life sounds rather depressing.
And yet he achieved a good deal. Not only those excellent early mysteries (though as a crime novelist he was burned out at 30) but also light music - he wrote often for films, including Carry On and Doctor movies. He was friendly with Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, and in some ways as talented. Whittle gives a good deal of insight into a life that began brilliantly, but all too soon entered a decline. A pricey but worthwhile biography.