Robert Bruce Montgomery wrote nine novels and two collections of short stories under the pseudonym Edmund Crispin, all featuring the amateur detective Gervase Fen. The Glimpses of the Moon was his last Fen novel, and there had been a twenty-six year gap between the publication of this book in 1977 and the previous full-length one––The Long Divorce––in 1951. Was it worth the wait? I’m not so sure.
Where I have thoroughly enjoyed the combination of skilful plotting, wry humour and literary allusions in all the earlier Fen novels, in The Glimpses of the Moon all of these elements seem somehow contrived. The allusions are too arch; the humour too puerile; and the plotting too random. Regarding the solution of the book, the publishers Gollancz claim on their jacket blurb that “we defy anyone to reach it ahead of Fen” and they would be right: the unmasking of the final villain seems almost arbitrary.
Having been rather damning in my overall appraisal of the book there is, however, much to enjoy in it. I particularly liked the references to things which we now take for granted, but which in the seventies were still being referred to and treated as novelties and curios: these include topics as varied as TV advertising jingles––“…with mild green Fairy Liquid.”––to the electrification of the countryside, as tall electricity pylons begin to make their appearance across previously empty fields and landscapes. One such pylon features on the front cover of the dust wrapper of the first edition of the book.
Perhaps more than anything, though, I enjoyed the interlude that Fen spends at a local village fête. In my childhood, fêtes were a regular summer occurrence. There would be fêtes at the school; charity fêtes; and many of the larger houses around where I lived would open up their gardens and hold a fête. As a child, these events held the promise of endless entertainment: there were stalls with things to eat; stalls with things to buy; and a variety of games and puzzles and prizes. A tradition, which is still upheld in the countryside; the town fête, however, now seems to have all but disappeared.
I remember at one summer fête, which my family visited while on holiday, I won a tombola prize of a ride around the local countryside in an old-fashioned, chauffeur-driven, open-top Rolls Royce. Without a qualm, my parents waved my ten-year old self off with this total stranger for a journey of unspecified length to an unspecified location. More innocent days!
An interesting insight on the author occurs in the character of Broderick Thouless. Crispin describes Thouless as a composer type-cast into having to produce discordant background music for movie horror scenes––“Film-music composers are just as liable to type-casting as actors and actresses.” As Robert Montgomery, the author found success writing musical scores for a number of the early Carry On movies and, despite composing widely for concert works, church music and operas, it remained the Carry On music which found him his greatest audience.
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow tries not to be type-cast.
Check out Fergus Longfellow’s essays on Alan Hunter’s Inspector George Gently novels––Gently Observed––on Amazon.