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Matters Criminous

crime / mystery / detective literature:
a critical list with discussions

Crime/Mystery Series: Professor Gervase Fen

"I rather think she wants to interview you, Gervase," Adam continued. "She's doing a series on famous detectives for one of the papers."

"Famous detectives," said Fen with great complacency. "Oh, my dear paws. You hear that, Dick?" he went on, banging the Chief Constable suddenly on the chest to make sure of his attention. "Famous detectives."

"Celebrated imbeciles," said Sir Richard crossly. "Ugh."

--Swan Song,
Edmund Crispin

Edmund Crispin's Professor Gervase Fen

There are several Fen/Crispin ("Crispin" wrote no other fiction) web sites and pages, including:

(In case you came to this page you are reading from a search engine instead of through its site, I will here repeat the brief remarks on the main mystery/crime page that points here.)

Gervase Fen, the Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University, is the star of a too-short roster of novels and shorts, each more wildly comic than the last. The humor is not of the gross "banana-peel" variety, and the tales have their sober moments; but "Crispin" (the pen name of composer Robert Bruce Montgomery) was, right from the first paragraph of the first book, a demonstrable master of that delicious English dry wit that can culminate in madcap antics pursued with apparent utmost sobriety. The concluding (and doubtless best) Fen novel, The Glimpses of the Moon, written after a quarter-century hiatus, has all the flavor of a Marx Brothers film, despite its gruesome chief prop. The crimes, and their solutions, are--as with so many of the best of this genre--silly and more or less irrelevant to the main business, which is the bizarre situations and zany dialogues.

The Books

There were nine Fen novels and enough short stories to populate two collections. In my opinion, the shorts are really for Fen completists: "Crispin" was clearly at his best in the longer form. There was a curious gap of over a quarter-century between the penultimate Fen novel and the last one, but that last is arguably the best of all.

In these lists, the links are all to used-book searches for the title (via Abebooks). Some few can still be found in print new, but not many. As usual, the search results are sorted from lowest price up (note that, as always in used-book searches from this site, the price sort is by actual book price, not total shipped price, though each listing also always shows the true total shipped cost; occasionally, a slightly more expensive title will be slightly cheaper shipped--but the differences are never much and you can easily eyeball those cases.) Most titles represent a number of varying editions, from original hardcovers to late paperback reprints.

The Individual Novels

The Fen novels were collected into a very pleasing uniform three-volume set by The Mystery Guild, and that is clearly the preferred way to collect them; nonetheless, here they are individually.

Short Stories

If you simply must have all the available Fen, here are the two short-story collections.

  • Beware of the Trains
    (Sorry, the phrase "beware of", with its redundant "of", just sets my teeth on edge. Immaterial, but I wanted to say it somewhere.)

  • Fen Country

Omnibus Editions

As noted above, the three matched Crime Club omnibus volumes are the preference for collecting the Fen novels.

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