Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell

It took me a while to get into this book. At first the studiedly arch tone really put me off, despite the clever humor. I couldn't imagine wanting to read an entire book written that way.

Then I got to the second chapter, which is mostly related through a letter from one of the characters to the others. Suddenly the whole thing clicked and I was enjoying the book. So if you try this one and don't like it, at least give it two chapters.

It's an oddly constructed murder mystery in some ways. The murder takes place in Venice, but the main character--dry Oxford don Hilary Tamar--never leaves London. Hilary is spending a month out of the summer housesitting for a friend and doing research, but what she's really doing is hanging out with a bunch of young lawyers, many of them former students of hers, while they themselves are spending as many working hours as they can get away with drinking coffee, visiting restaurants, and gossiping. One of the bunch, Julia, is on holiday in Venice. Ostensibly she's part of an Art Lover's tour, but really she's there to seduce someone attractive. When a handsome young man turns up dead in her bed, she's the only logical suspect. It's up to Hilary and her vapid friends to figure out what really happened.

The book is witty, sometimes self-consciously so but always with a tongue-in-cheek feel. The characters banter incessantly, which is part of the fun. And the plot, while a bit far-fetched, is well-constructed and a good mystery. I didn't figure out who the murderer was--in fact, my guesses were all way off.

I should also point out the awesome cover illustration by Edward Gorey. I actually owned this whole series at one point back when I had a huge Gorey collection, but I never read the books. It's too bad I didn't keep the others, because I think I'll read the rest of this series eventually.

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Kelly Robinson said...

I've always been intrigued by the concept of the detective's gender not ever being mentioned in this series. Apparently Hilary is a 'she' to you. I haven't read it, but I'm wondering what factors led you to that decision. Is it something in the actual text, or the desire to link the main character to the author? And is the writing stilted because of the lack of gender-revealing pronouns? (Guess I need to read and see!)

K.C. Shaw said...

Huh! You know, I never noticed that Hilary's gender wasn't mentioned. It's written in first person, for one thing, and she just sounds female to me. Looking back, I can't see anything that would change my mind. I think she's a she.

But YMMV, as the kids say.

I don't think the stiltedness had anything to do with concealing gender. Since it's narrated by Hilary in first person and no one really refers to Hilary unless they're addressing her directly, it's not really difficult to pull off. I found it more stilted the way the author broke up her dialogue for comic effect, i.e. "I stand," said Selena, "corrected." Or whatever--that's very close to a direct quote but I don't have the book with me. That's funny occasionally, but it's constant in the book.