Friday, 31 October 2008

Forgotten Book - Thus Was Adonis Murdered

My latest entry in Patti Abbott's series, Friday's Forgotten Books, is Sarah Caudwell's Thus Was Adonis Murdered

Sarah Caudwell’s strange career as a crime writer was cut short by her untimely death in 2000. In almost two decades, she produced only four novels, and the last of those – The Sibyl in her Grave was published posthumously, and then initially in the United States but not at first in her native England.

By that time, deplorably, her original publishers seemed to have tired of her agonisingly slow rate of productivity. Yet Caudwell won many devoted admirers with work which seemed, even at the start of her career, to belong to a much earlier age. Her style is eccentric and mannered, with academic and legalistic overtones, but above all it is witty. Her plots are intricate and somewhat contrived. She makes great use of letters as a means of conveying information to the reader. The gender of her series detective, Professor Hilary Tamar, is never revealed. All in all, Caudwell was a one-off, whose passing all lovers of the ingenious whodunit lamented. Thus Was Adonis Murdered introduced Hilary and her friends at 62 New Square in Lincoln’s Inn. It is an intricate story, remarkably told, which earned Caudwell immediate acclaim, and – because the book seemed to belong to another age even when it came out in 1981 – it has worn pretty well. Caudwell is an acquired taste, but for those willing to step into a make-believe world, she offers rich entertainment. Great fun.

8 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

amazing she could pull off not revealing the gender. what work that must have been.

Scott Parker said...

Have to admit, the first thing I thought of upon reading the title of your FFB was the Star Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonis?" I'm getting a greater appreciation for the traditional mystery story and will have to add Caudwell to my list.

David Cranmer said...

I'm wondering now how difficult it would be to write a book without revealing the gender of your main character. And that's a great title for a book.

Michael A. Gonzales said...

i love discovering forgotten writers; thanks for the post.

Barrie said...

I have never read anything by Sarah Caudwell. I must try her.

Martin Edwards said...

The gender trick is really cleverly done. Sarah was a very intelligent, as well as very unusual, writer.

Fetherwate said...

I discovered Sarah Caudwell about five years ago, read eagerly what I thought were the first four novels - only to be gutted when I found they were the only four! I still re-read them, because they are as much comedies of manners as mysteries.
She's great at names, too - Cantrip, Ragwort, Julia and Serena are the other four main recurring characters, each beautifully individualised (if there is such an awful word; sorry).
For once, too, the cover artist, Paul Cox, is absolutely in tune with the author's tone.
Highly recommended.

Martin Edwards said...

Fetherwate, I do agree. Ironically, when Sarah's first book came out, I was initially put off by the odd character names. Once I overcame that prejudice, I realised they were a meaningful part of the unique world she created.d