Saturday, March 23, 2024

17. Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell

Once again, I have forgotten to note where I learned about a certain author.  Somebody I follow strongly recommended Sarah Caudwell's four Hilary Tamar novels and so I added them to my hunting list.  I found 3 of them at the Oakland Museum White Elephant sale and without knowing if they would be any good, bought them all.  They were only a dollar and I wasn't sure if I would have the opportunity again.

Well so far so good, this first one is quite a lot of fun.  Once again, I found myself less interested in trying to figure out the actual mystery while really enjoying the writing and characters.  Hilary Tamar is the "detective" (and the narrator) but really it's about a group of junior lawyers and their witty banter who all work for the same London firm.  It is deep in that aristocratic, Oxbridge self-deprecating, classical education rhetoric where they are always fighting about who should pay for the wine and pointing out each other's deepest flaws in the most passive-aggressive way possible.

The situation here is that their least practical friend, Julia, is off to a vacation in Venice on an art tour when she gets accused of murdering one of her fellow travellers, a beautiful young man named Ned, who is found stabbed through the heart in his hotel bed with which she had spent the entire afternoon.  The book is semi-epistolary as the first half is the group reading Julia's letters which are primarily about her trying to hook up with Ned and lead up to the murder (and thus give all these clues).  One of the things I liked about this book (written in 1981) is that both homosexuality and female sexual initiative are treated as given.  Julia simply wants a fling and is both worried about not succeeding but also of making Ned think she actually cares about him.  Ned is travelling with another young man, a strapping, up-and-coming sculptor whom she (and the others) suspect is in love with Ned.

Once again, the mystery once unraveled was quite clever, but there was no way I would have ever figured it out.  The conceit in the book that comes out a bit at the beginning is that while Tamar is the most clever of them, nobody respects here and later, you realize they also find her a pedantic bore as when she is trying to explain her reasoning, they all find excuses as to why they have to be elsewhere. It's pretty funny.  A very enjoyable read and strongly recommended, especially for fans of the cozy.


Anonymous said...

Hilary can also be a male name, so we don't even know if it is "he" or "she".

Kate M. said...

I may have mentioned these books, as I've read all 4 several times each (except the final one), and think it's too bad that Sarah Caudwell died before she could write any more. The last one, The Sibyl in her Grave, reads like it wasn't a final draft.

I always pictured Julia as being played by Marina Sirtis.