The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944) by Edmund Crispin


Yseut Haskell is a potential murderer’s dream. She is an actress who is currently working at a theater in Oxford and has managed to surround herself with a menagerie of people who want to kill her. She is currently working on a play that is being heralded by one Robert Warner, one of the multitude of men that Yseut has had the pleasure of bedding in her short years of life. The others in the production all have a variety of reason’s to hate her: from jealousy, vengeance, hatred, and even the commoner known as greed. She consistently insinuate’s and irritates while coming across as dim witted and pretentious to most around her. She is a woman who uses her sex appeal to enjoy life, and in doing so has created a legion of outsiders who would also like the chance to take a swing at her, though wether or not someone in her circle or outside it did the swinging become’s clear a few chapters in.

Being such a vile and hated person may not matter to Yseut, but when she is found murdered in impossible circumstances, her personality and actions become center stage in a investigation lead by the brilliant Gervase Fen. A while before the murder, Yseut had become drunk and had swung another’s gun around while shouting, creating quite a scene before the weapon was eventually stolen from a drawer in the owner’s house. Given that information, guess where the weapon that killed Yseut came from? Another mystery is added to the murder when a ring is discovered on Yseut’s finger, depicting the titular gilded fly and it having been jammed on after death. Soon after, another is murdered and the mystery continues to escalate before being satisfying resolved in this post golden age semi-classic.

Edmund Crispin has a gorgeous writing style. It is verbose, but not verbose like the language in the early Queen’s and becomes easily understandable after reading the book for a while (Much like Christianna Brand) and he write’s with a level of wit and charm that I rarely encounter in these sorts of books. He also uses a narrative trick that I adore, being the use of several different people’s perspectives in separated sections in a chapter – a trick that Brand perfected (these similarities just keep adding up!).

The best part of this book is it’s characters. They all spring to life in some shape or form and liven up the mystery page after page while making me want to see more of all of them. Everyone get’s some characterization, and the murderer is center stage here, something that I appreciate because I do not enjoy reading 200 pages to learn that the crime was commited by a person who appeared on 5 pages. The setting also ties in nicely with the characters, with it feeling very realistic and combining with the people in the story to make it feel like they actually do belong there wether it be in the real or fictional world.

The impossible crime is also quite decent. The trick was confusing at first but the help of a map added to the text helped me picture it easily. It is a bit fantastic in a sense and could easily be detected – but it’s still much better than many other method’s of creating impossibilities that I’ve encountered. The reason for the ring being jammed onto the woman’s finger is disappointing and is so minor that I don’t see why the novel is named after it, maybe Crispin’s theatrical side was shining through the day he sent in the typescript.

This book could easily be a classic, but it just misses the pizazz of one. Most detective fiction classics have a certain element or a collection of elements that cause them to have an effect on the reader that is so great in it’s scale that it causes a shock that is only taken away after a few hours, days, or even weeks. TCGF doesn’t have that, it’s simply a well rounded detective story that I consider to be a B grade classic; not stunning, but much better than most other stories.

A very enjoyable experience with my first Crispin, and it gets a 4/5 from me.






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