Last month I spent some time with Edmund Crispin and his marvellous detective Gervase Fen, revisiting the wonderful book “The Moving Toyshop”. I lamented the fact that there are some of Crispin’s shorter works uncollected, and several really helpful comments alerted me to the fact that a Fen novella “The Hours of Darkness” had been finally printed in a collection, “Bodies from the Library 2” in 2019 – many thanks to Words and Peace for pointing me in its direction! 😀

Now, I’m a sucker for Fen stories as you might have guessed, and so I was very excited about this discovery; and despite it being digital reading, which I usually hate, I picked up as soon as I could. “The Hours of Darkness” is set at a country house party, and opens with two young people being rather fed up with a game of hide and seek which is going on. However, the discovery of a dead body – one of the house guests who’s found strangled and blood-soaked – soon puts an end to the celebrations. Fortunately, 15 miles away at the home of Professor Fen, a children’s party is taking place and the host is happy for any excuse to get away from building a Meccano crane; so when he’s called away to investigate the murder he exits post-haste in Lily Christine III, leaving Professor Wilkes happily telling lurid fairy-tales to the children and his long-suffering wife trying to sooth everyone down. At the country house, Rydalls, he finds a motley group of guests and evidence of a very nasty murder. The professor’s investigation reveals a killing with roots in a past case and a really vicious culprit whose evil nature even seems to affect Fen’s mood. It’s really quite a dark story.

“Oh, my fur and whiskers,” Fen exclaimed. He generally had recourse to the White Rabbit in moments of high excitement.

Well, this was such a treat. To have an unread Fen novella was unexpected and very wonderful. Crispin is fine form and Fen makes his way through the detecting in his usual idiosyncratic manner, singing carols badly up to the point where the local inspector has to object as “This persistent carolling was evidently fraying his nerves” (I’m sure it would anybody’s!!) The fourth wall is broken too: “…Crispin is proposing to write the case up. I suppose I shall have to get in touch with him about it – poor old chap, he gets terribly muddled…” The cast of characters are amusing too, with the women generally having the upper hand; the plot is devious and twisty; and as so often, Crispin manages to create quite a frisson of danger and horror. I really can’t understand why this story wasn’t collected before. According to the ISFDB, the story was first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1975, so a few years before the author’s death. Whether it was written at that time or earlier, I don’t know (though the quote above hints at it being a later work), but I thought it was an impressive and enjoyable story and I’m so glad to have had the chance to read it! Thanks Words and Peace and of course the editor and publishers of “Bodies from the Library” – let’s hope more uncollected Crispin turns up soon!