As part of our 2014 Book a Month program, we’re offering discussion questions about each month’s featured work—for book clubs as well as thoughtful individuals. You may use the questions to reflect back on each book once you’ve finished it or to guide you as you read. Either way, we hope these features will enrich your reading experience. (We’ll do our best to avoid plot spoilers, but you should proceed with caution!)
Saving the best for last? Edmund Crispin wrote our February selection, Glimpses of the Moon, a jaw-dropping twenty-six years after The Long Divorce, which until that point had capped his series starring the delightfully smug, compulsively quipping, crime-obsessed Professor Gervase Fen. By all accounts Crispin had spent most of the intervening years drinking on a semi-professional basis, but a late-in-life marriage to his secretary helped dry him out. The result was Glimpses, a delightful romp with a full complement of Crispin-esque eccentrics, including a psychotic cat, a narcoleptic horse, a vicar just a little too devoted to practical jokes, and a retired major yearning for another jolly war. And, oh yes, a dismembered body, with a magically disappearing head. Welcome to Crispinland, a world equally abounding with wit, a certain staggering erudition, and sheer, glorious loopiness.
1. Gervase Fen is both the epitome and a parody of the classic Gentleman Sleuth. Hallmarks of the GS are an upper-class background (and the education that goes along with it) and a tendency to view crime-solving as a delightful intellectual puzzle. Can you think of any other traits that are common to most Gentleman Sleuths (hint: Many GS characters have valets or manservants who used to be criminals). Aside from Fen, who are some of your favorite GS characters? Was Sherlock Holmes a true Gentleman Sleuth? If not, why not?
2. One of the central elements of the Crispin books is their humor: He was a very funny writer. So, too—though to a less compulsive extent—was Margery Allingham. But the three “queens” of Golden Age Detective Fiction – Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh – were really not funny at all. Does humor help or hurt the genre? Is it a distraction from the story or the greatest pleasure of the book?
3. More than a quarter-century passed between The Long Divorce (the most recent of the “Gervase Fen” books) and the publication of Glimpses of the Moon. If you have read any of the earlier books, do you think Fen changed in the interim? Should he have changed more? Less? Differently?
4. Crispin loved to introduce animals—often fairly weird animals—into his tales, and Glimpses of the Moon is certainly no exception. Are the animals amusing? Irritating? Is Crispin using them as stand-ins for human characters? If the horse or the cat in Glimpses, for example, were actual people, what would they be like?
5. Both Gentleman Sleuth mysteries and clue-centered “puzzle mysteries” have fallen deeply out of fashion. Why do you think that is? Can you think of any that are being written today? Would the genres work, transplanted to the 21st century?