Swan Song: A Novel of Music and Murder

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If anything unites Marcel and Jenkins, it is their dedication. The narrator is only rarely self-conscious about his aims. Prejudice was to be avoided if—as I had idly pictured him—Members were to form the basis of a character in a novel. That always seemed one of the basic problems. As he assembles his cast of about characters, he obviously has difficulty in writing about their doings from firsthand since he cannot bug their rooms or follow them everywhere.

He establishes a fussy accuracy, often in the interests of comedy. In Volume 6 The Kindly Ones there is a flashback to the summer of I first heard a full and fairly reliable account of that story, fragments of which had, of course, already reached me in more or less garbled versions, from other sources. By Volume 11 Temporary Kings Jenkins has become dissatisfied with witnesses other than himself.

Harrowing Horror: Swan Song

Accordingly, not only are many episodes in which you may even have played a part hard enough to assess; a lot more must be judged from the haphazard accounts given by others. It is clear that this straining after accuracy is often in the interests of comedy, for the truth when established was the housemaid absolutely naked?


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Did the general behave like a gentleman and cover her with a shawl? There are other occasions when Jenkins is wilfully obscure, usually when he is referring to his private life or filling in material that either bores him or eludes his grasp.

Edmund Crispin: Swan Song () – The Reader Is Warned

His first sexual encounter, at the back of an antique shop, is dismissed in seven words. The height of vagueness or impersonality comes in Volume At this point, Jenkins is content to pass on hearsay, even though it might be derogatory. Several women in the novels are held to be attracted to their own sex, and one is even alleged to be jealous, or rather envious, of her husband because of his success with women. Jenkins asked Does he go to parties only frequented by his own sex?

In the later volumes the sexual deviations become really sinister: necrophilia and the unmentionable. The Dance to the Music of Time runs more than 50 years from the period of the peace conferences after the First World War to the hippy-sex-ecology counter-culture of the present decade. Jenkins covers this period unevenly.

There are six volumes up to ; three for the five years of war; and another three for 25 years of peace. The action moves forward through straight story-telling but mostly through conversation which can double back in time and bring the narrator and the reader up-to-date with the lives of characters who have been off the stage for some time. The conversations take place in bars and dining-rooms, at formal gatherings mostly, except in the wartime novels, where there is more freedom of movement and more characters from outside the magic circle, The social gathering has a profound significance for Jenkins.

Anatole Broyard, writing in the New York Times found it old-fashioned. Whether dinnertable conversation is out-of-date or dated is beside the point; what is important is that the conversation should either divert or inform. In some cases, these conversations have to carry so much information about the past activities of characters that present interrelation or confrontation suffers. A good example of this is in the section devoted to the Warminister funeral in Volume Here, a quite Dickensian feeling for the quiddity and oddity of people comes out.

Edmund Crispin: Swan Song (1947)

General Conyers playing Gounod on his cello; Lady Molly sitting down to eat scrambled eggs with the vet; the writer St. John Clarke telling a friend that the Nobel Prize was just around the corner; or St. The prose style of these novels has been widely praised. In his early novels Powell had a laconic manner that owed something to Hemingway.

Passages of similar opacity occur in all the novels and usually arise when Jenkins is uncertain how to kick off a new section or when he is covering up for an absence of concrete detail at a time when it is needed. In the first volume of the series, Jenkins introduces his schoolfriends. His closest ones, Stringham and Templer, are attractive, socially rewarding young men; a third boy, Widmerpool, is a gauche striver, offending by his mere presence.

Stringham and Templer, for all their charm, are neither successful in their careers nor in their personal relations. A mysterious blight is on them, and they are both killed during the war, Widmerpool, a one-man disaster area, moves from one position of power to another and ends up as a member of the House of Lords, the embodiment of thick-skinned, self-important philistinism, the man who is everything Jenkins would hate to be. Jenkins has no love for Widmerpool and thinks of him as a ludicrous and craven person, dedicated to social climbing and the pursuit of power.

In the first volume, Widmerpool enters at the trot—he is a compulsive exerciser— and in the last volume he exits panting along with a group of hippies engaged on some weird rite of their own. As fall-guy and tormentor Widmerpool has a major role in the series. He is, in the early novels, both irritating and pathetically comic. He gets custard-pie treatment he is hit in the face by a banana and a debutante pours sugar on his hair , and at the same time he is shown to be dominated by his awful mother and to be a treacherous schemer.

He is a cultural blockhead, a sexual incompetent and cuckold, a small-minded military man, an intriguer, a fellow-traveller, and, possibly, a spy and a crook.

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Unsympathetic treatment is also given to all politicians in the novels. Jenkins believes them to be shams, whose motivation is never the public interest but their own ambition. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Swan Song , please sign up.


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Ingenioso como Crispin teje estos asesinatos en la opera, la pericia para describir esos tecnicismos y entrecijos detras de la puesta en escena de una obra operistica. El personaje de Fen es entranable. Una buena lectura para pasar un rato agradable y por momentos muy emocionante, hasta tal punto que no puedes despegarte del libro. See 1 question about Swan Song…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. I do love me an academic mystery. And Edmund Crispin's delightful series starring Gervase Fen--the Oxford don and quirky amateur detective--is a marvelous example of academic mysteries done right.

There is witty, sparkling dialogue. There is intellectual name-dropping--"There goes C. Lewis," said Fen suddenly. Bradley and Albert Campion. There is the entertainingly mad brother of the deceased. There I do love me an academic mystery. There is brilliant humor--it's worth the price of admission just for the description of Fen driving his sporty little red car, "Lily Christine. Impossible, that is, if it's murder and not suicide. Swan Song gives us murder at the opera. An Oxford opera house is putting on a production of Die Meistersinger and while the star of the show, Edwin Shorthouse, may sing like an angel most everyone who knew him thought his origins were from a much warmer climate.

His drunken advances to every available or even unavailable female doesn't do anything for his popularity with the ladies And his insistence on misunderstanding direction hasn't won him any points with the conductor. So, it's no surprise that few tears are shed when Shorthouse is found swinging at the end of a hangman's noose in his dressing room late one night. The trouble is that while there are plenty people with motive, there just doesn't seem to be any way that someone could have murdered him.

The police are prepared to accept a case of suicide. But a stubborn coroner's jury will have it as murder. And then there are attacks on the wife of one of the other singers. A second member of the cast will die and a third will be attacked before Fen will reveal how a man can be murdered by hanging with no one else in the room--and how revenge can extend beyond the grave.

This is great fun and Crispin's writing is a delight. Very reminiscent of Dorothy L. Sayers--which probably explains why I like it so much. Four stars.

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Please request permission to repost any portion. View 2 comments. The first three were hit and miss. I liked two and one I wasn't all that thrilled with. It may be that I'm getting used to Crispin's style of story - telling but for whatever reason, this was the Fen mystery I've enjoyed the most. The story focuses on an opera company who have just moved up to Oxford to practice and then perform Wagner's Meistersinger. One member, Adam Langley, has recently married, a budding author, Elizabeth, who specializes in crime stories.

Edwin Shorthouse, the lead singer and a feared member of the group, has made passes at Elizabeth and hates Adam because of the marriage. Elizabeth, as part of a series of articles she wants to write about famous detectives, wishes to interview the famous Gervase Fen, who is now a professor at Oxford. While the troupe practices, one of the members I won't say who is found dead, a purported suicide.

This brings Gervase Fen into the picture. The story revolves around his investigation, ably assisted by Adam. It's an interesting mystery, peopled with lovely characters. Shorthouse is an excellent villain, a misogynist, a drunk, but an excellent singer, the focus of the opera He is a source of tension throughout the story. I'm not an opera buff but the snippets involving the rehearsal and the characters made the story more interesting.

It's a quick, entertaining, enjoyable mystery. I will read the other books in this series. Well done, Mr. Crispin 4 stars View 1 comment. Jun 28, Jon rated it really liked it. Written in , this book describes the first production, in England after the war, of Die Meistersinger banned during the war because the Nazis loved Wagner and several murders that occur during rehearsals. It is a near-perfect example of the old-fashioned English murder mystery at its best. A locked room murder, an eccentric Oxford don as the sleuth, admirably witty, romantic, or waspish suspects.

I especially loved it because, even though I caught one of the most important clues early on, Written in , this book describes the first production, in England after the war, of Die Meistersinger banned during the war because the Nazis loved Wagner and several murders that occur during rehearsals. I especially loved it because, even though I caught one of the most important clues early on, I never figured out what to make of it, and then Crispin wound up fooling me not once, but twice in the denouement. A bravura performance. This particular edition, however, from Felony and Mayhem Press, is so full of misprints that it borders on the unreadable.

Choose a different edition. Crispin once wrote a short story that turned on whether a character said "rowed" or "rode"--and given that, misprints do not inspire confidence. Although I love the eccentric Gervase Fen, I think in this story, one of my favorite characters who doesn't even figure prominently in the story, is John Barfield, who seemed never not to be eating. It's hilarious that when he enters scenes, he seems to be consuming food. I really appreciate the way Crispin stated and described things -"And the situation was this, that she had fallen inexplicably and quite unexpectedly in love with an operatic tenor How it came about she was never able clearly Although I love the eccentric Gervase Fen, I think in this story, one of my favorite characters who doesn't even figure prominently in the story, is John Barfield, who seemed never not to be eating.

How it came about she was never able clearly to remember, but it seems to have happened quite suddenly, without gestation or warning. One day Adam Langley was an agreeable but undifferentiated member of an operatic company; the next he shone alone and unreal. Elizabeth felt, in the face of this phenomenon, something of the awe of a Coenobite visited by an archangel and was startled at the hurried refocusing of familiar objects which such an experience involves.

He was an old man named Furbelow, with wispy hair and steel-rimmed spectacles Mudge sighed, and pronounced, as though it were rude, the word "Furbelow". The stage-door-keeper materialized from among the peripheral wraiths and stood blinking at them. His evidence is important. They would require a great deal of luck, he thought, sitting petrified in the front seat, if they were to get back at all. To realize that anyone is not a very good driver takes a little time; the mind is not eager, in the face of a long journey, to embrace this particular verity; and it was not until Fen emerged into the High Street, with the velocity of a benighted traveller pursued by spectres, that Adam became really alarmed But of course she was laid up during the war, and I don't think it's improved her.

He shook his head, sombrely. Not surprising, the victim was universally disliked - "There could be no doubt, thought Adam, that the death of Edwin Shorthouse was not much regretted either by Peacock or anyone else connected with the production.

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Adam said as much to Fen. View all 3 comments. A charming detective story that's also a really clever impossible crime. Set in an opera company, and mostly in Oxford the characters take tea at the Randolph and drink at the Bird and Baby! Please do not use it in any marketing material, online or in print, without asking permission from me first. Thank you! Mar 24, Tony Renner rated it really liked it. Edmund Crispin's Swan Song features Gervase Fen for the 4th time in what proves to be as much of a romantic comedy as a murder mystery, though Fen does solve an ingenious murder.

John's, Oxford, Edmund Crispin is a man of letters and a musician organist and composer as well as one of the masters of modern detective fiction since his 22nd year. Reserved in manner, but a charming conversationalist an Edmund Crispin's Swan Song features Gervase Fen for the 4th time in what proves to be as much of a romantic comedy as a murder mystery, though Fen does solve an ingenious murder.

Reserved in manner, but a charming conversationalist and as witty in life as he is in his books. His true career is in music, by which he lives as well as courts fame [as Bruce Montgomery]. His preferred composer is Brahms. His first detective novel, The Case of the Guilded Fly , was written in fourteen days. Like those to follow, it features an Oxford professor of English literature, Gervase Fen, who is not at all donnish. There is also one of Brahms -- for no very clear reason, though it may perhaps be a tribute to his curious and fortunately abortive project for an opera about gold-mining in the Yukon.

So I worked here, and then there was the war, and fools said, 'Because Hitler is fond of Wagner we will not have Wagner in England. Playing Boheme and dying of consumption five times weekly. As a matter of fact, I nearly died of overeating. However, after Shorthouse entered, the room was watched the entire time, leaving no opportunity for anyone to enter, hang the victim, stage a suicide and leave, without being seen.

Suffice to say I thought this book was wonderful, the pace plotting and clueing are just right, and the cast of characters are of the classic Crispin ilk, richly observed, memorable, touching, laugh out loud, with some of the bit part players having the most hilarious parts to play.

If you think the idea of a mystery set around the opera sounds achingly boring, fear not, as the book is really a sly satire on the culture of the opera house and the academic world of the Oxford don. Much of which feels like a forerunner to the satirical writing of the likes of Woody Allen on these same themes. Swan Song acts as much as a love letter to the opera, as well as a detective novel.

This is evident in the dedication page which includes a small notation from Die Meistersinger itself. Other highlights include chapter 11 which waxes lyrical on the atmosphere of Oxford in the low season, with gorgeous descriptions of lonely objects and places, without being over bearing. This same chapter then takes a snap turn with an unexpectedly dark event, rapidly moving the plot forward.


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  7. And chapters 21 and 22 manage to recapitulate everything we have read, adding pause for consideration of all we have seen, without it feeling at all forced, this is a very difficult thing to pull off. Chapter 21 feels ahead of its time, almost like it could have been written for screen. To speak of the impossible crime, the problem is neat, simple pretty dark and believable, but definitely guessable to the seasoned reader.

    The identity of the killer however is a real hidden gem, and a great twist, turning the events of the book on their head. The humour, and solid detection will be no end of pleasure. I spotted the killer but not the method, which puts us the opposite way around from each other; I wonder what it is that makes someone see an entirely different thing in the exact same words?

    Glad you enoyed this, especially as Crispin takes something of a dive from hereon out. Love Lies Bleeding is…passbale, but the others ae hard yards. How bad are they, you want to know? Like Liked by 1 person. So glad you enjoyed this one as much as I did. I got thrown off the killers sent by the bloody removing cream! I had other false ideas about it which were leading me astray.