Robert Bruce Montgomery was an English composer and author of nine detective novels and 2 short story collections. He was considered one of the last of the classic English mystery novelists. He was a great fan of John Dickson Carr and his detective, who was a fellow and English Professor at the fictional St. Christopher’s college located near Oxford, is modeled after Carr’s Dr. Gideon Fell. Dr. Gervase Fen is in physically different from Fell, but mentally and personality-wise they are similar. Published under the pseudonym Edmund Crispin, Love Lies Bleeding is my first sampling of this author. I found two of his books in a local used book store. This is the 5th of the books featuring Dr. Fen and was originally published in 1948. My version was a Felony & Mayhem reprint from 2007. The other book I bought was the first of the series, but I wasn’t paying attention and scooped this one up on Monday to read while waiting on my foster son at the eye doctor and dentist. This is supposed to be one of the weaker books, but I enjoyed it. Montgomery mixes a bit more more humor into his writing than Carr does. He tends to be very fond of dropping literary and musical references into the mix. Dr. Fen is the sort of character that is fun on paper, but would probably drive a person homicidal in real life.
The premise is that Dr. Fen is invited to be a key speaker at a “speech day” at a boy’s boarding school. He is a friend of the headmaster and agrees. Apparently this day is part of a weekend where the parents visit, awards are given and events produced. One of the events is a play that involves students from a local girl’s school. A 16-year-old girl is behaving oddly and parents and staff are afraid she has been, if not assaulted, in some other way messed with. Then she disappears, supposedly run away with an unknown man, although the girl’s school headmistress doesn’t believe it. Poison is missing from the chemistry lab. This all happens before Dr. Fen arrives. Then night after he arrives two professors are shot, one on and the other off campus within a short time of each other. Later another murder is uncovered. Are they connected? The local police are out of their depth, but not the good doctor. The solution of the murders, theft and kidnapping was actually too improbably to even suspend belief. There were just too many details that had to have happened exactly right for at least two of the crimes to have occurred. On the other had, the colorful characters, humor and just the literary, almost musical quality to the prose made it worth the purchase price and time spent reading it. I also have to like an author who can create a character like Mr. Merrythought, a somewhat homicidal old possible bloodhound, who hangs around the campus terrorizing everyone.