Frequent Hearses (Edmund Crispin)

By Edmund Crispin

First published: UK, Gollancz, 1950; US, Dodd, Mead, 1950, as Sudden Vengeance

My review

Crispin - Frequent Hearses.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

‘It’s nothing but a poem. Poems haven’t got anything to do with what happens in real life.’

What is it with film studios and detective stories by otherwise good authors? John Dickson Carr’s And So to Murder (1940) was also set in a film-studio — and was one of his weaker stories. Frequent Hearses is not much better. Both authors obviously spent more time on the film studio background than on the plots of their particular novels. An unusual poison is used to bump off the murders of the clichéd ghastly film family, “all deplorable in one way or another”, but the criminal appears in one scene at the beginning of the book, and never appears again. Although Crispin’s plots are often secondary compared to the humour and telling of the story, there was no need to devise something of this mundaneness. Professor Fen, Pope expert to the studio, is in the background for most of the tale, and so does not shine. The characters, with the exception of the heroine Judith Haynes, are all cardboard; and the much-touted maze scene is a reworking of a similar scene in the far superior Love Lies Bleeding. For completists only.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (13th January 1950):

Although the mystery and its unravelling in Mr. Crispin’s latest tale never fully quicken the reader’s curiosity—his murderer, indeed, makes so short and insignificant an entrance that when finally unmasked he can hardly be remembered—Professor Gervase Fen is still in noticeably good form as an amateur detective, helping to discover the hand behind a vendetta in a film studio.  The studio background is well done and a number of the minor characters are amusing—but no one—as Mr. Crispin perhaps intended—could be much interested in the three victims.