Gervase Fen is the amateur and unconventional detective, who is also an Oxford Professor, featured in the fictional detective stories written by Edmund Crispin.
Although Fen’s profession is that of an Oxford don, we find at the beginning of THE CASE OF THE GILDED FLY (Crispin’s first novel), that Fen wishes desperately to be involved in a ‘splendidly complicated crime’. Later on in the book he obtains his wish and works out answers to an interestingly complex crime.
Fen is described as cherubic, naïve, volatile but always, throughout all the books, entirely delightful. He is seen to take a genuine interest in things and people, the more intriguing a person the better. However, Fen is also light-hearted and quick witted, and his jovial manner belies his astute and shrewd take on events – which always lead him to find the culprit at the end of the stories.
In the foreword to FEN COUNTRY Philip Larkin (a contemporary of Crispin) writes that Crispin may have used familiar characteristic traits shown in his very own tutor, W G Moore, at Oxford and replicated those in Gervase Fen. Larkin felt that Fen had much of Moore’s appearance and mannerisms and indeed Crispin admitted later that in part this was the case.
Fen loves a mystery and wallows in the problems he is called upon to solve. However, life is not always fun, and Fen’s life is often threatened not only by murderers but also homicidal dogs (in LOVE LIES BLEEDING) and witches (in HOLY DISORDERS).
In THE MOVING TOYSHOP the reader sees how amusing Fen can be. He is seen to be suggesting titles for books written by Edmund Crispin in funny discussions with his friend Cadogan one of which is MURDER STALKS THE UNIVERSITY. And he regularly loves playing games with Cadogan – an example of such a game was to pick on ‘detestable characters in fiction’ or ‘unreadable books in literature’. Often authors themselves are mentioned during their discussions for example ‘ the immortal Jane’ being Jane Austen. All this picks up not only Fen’s but also Crispin’s wealth of knowledge in literature.
The Oxford College in which Fen resides is the fictional St Christopher’s, and this college often forms part of the setting in the books. For instance it provides the setting for part of THE MOVING TOYSHOP and SWAN SONG. In his first book, THE CASE OF THE GILDED FLY much of the book takes place at the college.
Another important part of the background scenery to the books, is Fen’s beloved car which he named Lily Christine III. Fen is often found driving his car around Oxford, sometimes not too safely.
Camilla Shestopal – Director of Literary Estates, PFD