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edmund crispinBruce Montgomery wrote detective novels under the name Edmund Crispin.  He was both a crime writer and composer.  He wrote nine private detective novels featuring Gervase Fen all taking place in Oxford.  The first of these was called THE CASE OF THE GILDED FLY which was published in 1944.

Crispin was a member of the esteemed and elite club, the Detection Club which was formed of a group of British mystery writers and still exists as a club to this day.  He counted amongst his friends Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis and Agatha Christie.  His first novel was submitted directly to Victor Gollancz (to whom it appeared Crispin had submitted many other non detective manuscripts to no avail) who did take this on.

Crispin’s first love was music and indeed he was a composer writing various musical scores for about fifty feature films.  These included some of the ‘Carry On’ films.  He was conflicted with a lack of confidence in his own ability and never thought he was good enough.  However, he was also thought to be lazy and unambitious which might have been brought on by his struggle with alcoholism which was eventually to kill him.

Crispin succeeded Julian Symons as a crime reviewer for the Sunday Times and according to his biographer David Whittle, for five years read an average of 40 books a month.  He was known to be a stickler for accuracy and felt that his reviewing took up a tremendous amount of reading time saying to his editor ‘To read a book a day for you – which is what it amounts to – does leave one in increasing ignorance of what is going on elsewhere in the literary world.’

Crispin was flamboyant, enjoyed good food and was popular with both men and women.    Two of his contemporaries had this to say about him:

Kingsley Amis: “I must have seen Bruce Montgomery on my first morning in St. John’s in 1941 coming out of his staircase in the front quad to go to the bath-house… This man, along with an indefinable and daunting air of maturity had a sweep of wavy auburn hair, a silk dressing gown in some non-primary shade and a walk that looked eccentric and mincing, though I found out later that it was the result of a severe congenital deformity in both of this feet…. When more fully attired, he inclined to a fancy waistcoated, suede-shoed style with cigarette-holders and rings.”

Larkin: “Bruce was lazy but with a far brilliant brain than I; I was lazyish, but vaguely industrious, doing a deal of undirected work. He was expected to get a first by nearly everyone, and the responsibility weighed on him, driving him to the bar of the Randolph but rarely to his desk and books”

Edmund Crispin died on 29th September 1978 of a heart attack which was thought to have been brought on by alcoholism.  Despite the decline in his health, he continued working until his death.

(Source: Biography of Edmund Crispin by David Whittle)


A four part essay on Edmund Crispin from The Passing Tramp: one, two, three, four

“One of the undiscovered treasures of British crime fiction:

Crispin’s storytelling is intelligent, humane, surprising and rattling good fun” – A.L. Kennedy


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