This months vintage book review is of The Moving Toy Shop by Edmund Crispin. Crispin was the nome de plume for Bruce Montgomery and he wrote music, including the theme music for a lot of Carry On Movies!
The Moving Toy Shop is set in Oxford in the 1940’s. Primarily we meet Richard Cadogan, a middle aged Poet, who is telling his publisher, Mr Spode, that life is dull and he needs an adventure.
“I am getting old and stale. I act with calculation. I take heed for the morrow. This morning I caught myself paying a bill as soon as it came in. This much be stopped. In another age I should have devoured the living hearts of children to bring back my lost youth. As it is…I shall go to Oxford”.
That night Cadogan gets a late train out of London, changing at Didcot but there finding out that there are no more trains that night. He manages to thumb a lift from a passing lorry driver who drops him off quite close to the city, leaving him to walk the rest of the way. Cadogan comes across a shop with the awning down, it’s now after midnight so this is unusual, he tries the door handle to find it unlocked. Initially spooked, he eventually convinces himself that he had wanted an adventure and may be doing the occupant a service by advising them of the insecurity of the building. He thus walks into a dark and deserted toy shop and starts moving about to find someone to tell. He gets to the first floor where he opens a door into an apparent lounge which he walks into and trips over a dead body, illuminated by the pool of his torch light. He tries to turn on the light to no avail and then decides the torch is an encumbrance but remembers seeing a candle in the hallway so he swaps them and stands the candle by the body whilst he searches. The body is that of an old lady and near to it is a piece of paper with a number written on it.
“Anything else to be observed? Ah yes, a gold pince-nez , broken on the floor nearby…And then, abruptly he stiffened, his nerves tingling like charged electricity wires.
There had been a sound in the passageway outside”.
After waiting to see if there was further noise he blows the candle out and returns to retrieve his torch which is now not working, he eventually realises because the battery has been removed. He is then hit over the head and knocked out.
Waking some 4 hours later he finds himself locked in a storage area though manages to escape through a window and make his way to the police station.
“The Police were courteous and kind. They listened to his rather incoherent story without interruption, and asked a few supplementary questions about himself. Then the sergeant in charge…said
“Well, Sir, the best thing we can do now is to get that crack on the head dressed and give you a cup of hot tea and some aspirin…”
Cadogan was slightly annoyed as his failure to grasp the urgency of the situation. “Oughtn’t I to take you back there at once?”
“Well, now. If you were out four hours, as you say, I don’t expect they’ll have left the body lying there conveniently for us, as you might say…””
Cadogan is later taken back to the toy shop to show the Police the scene of the crime.
“The Police car drew into the kerb. Half rising in his seat Cadogan stopped and stared. In front of him, its window loaded with tins, flour, bowls or rice and lentils, bacon and other groceries in noble array, was a shop bearing the legend”
And this really starts the tale. Cadogan goes into town and finds an old professor that he used to know who whilst teaching Shakespeare is a known for his sharp mind and ability to investigate crime. The pair of them start following the clues as they lead them around the city, into solicitors’ offices and pubs, choir practice and the make nude bathing lake! There’s a chase that would have sat comfortably in an episode of Benny Hill with half of Oxford involved. And goodness only knows how they drink as much alcohol as they do and keep going!
This book was authentically of its time and yet very fresh and easy to read. I thought it was fabulous. It was great to read about Oxford in this time. The dialogue was excellent, sharp and funny. The plot was really good and kept me entertained and reading! It didn’t get bogged down, the author just moved it on. The author did this with humour, putting the next person they wanted to talk to sitting next to them in a cafe for example, asking why they were mentioning her name. So instead of a protracted investigation to locate her, there she is. Quite funny.
This was my vintage read this week and I found it interesting, funny and easy to read. Highly recommended.