Old School Wednesdays is a regular Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
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Title: Thus Was Adonis Murdered
Author: Sarah Caudwell
Publisher: Scribner Book Company
Publication date: First published 1981
Paperback: 246 pages
The first mystery in Caudwell’s popular series featuring amateur investigator Hilary Tamar and a cast of clever and trouble-prone young London barristers. When a young man is found dead in Julia Larwood’s bed, her barrister friends are the only ones who can uncover the truth of this masterpiece of murder.
Stand alone or series: First in a series but can be read as standalone
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): paperback
This is the first in a series of OSW posts which will appear throughout 2018, sponsored by lovely Kickstarter backers as part of their reward level – one where each backer got to pick an Old School book for us to read.
Thus Was Adonis Murdered was chosen by Joy (thanks, Joy!) and I immediately jumped at the chance to read a new-to-me mystery author.
A young barrister named Julia is off to Italy for a well-deserved vacation after her recent – and extremely stressful – stand-off against the Island Revenue. She plans to rest and relax yes, but also to indulge in some much needed shagging. The problem though is that Julia is notoriously clumsy and prone to accidents and her barrister friends in London are understandably concerned but still, largely positive especially when reading the first of her letters from Venice.
But soon, news arrive that Julia is in trouble – and worst trouble than they could ever have expected. A man from her vacation group has been murdered, and since the police found Julia’s personal copy of the Finance Act next to the body, she is a person of interest in the investigation.
Her barrister friends in London get together to solve the problem with the help of their older friend and mentor, amateur detective Professor Hilary Tamar. Professor Hilary’s viewpoint narrative drives the story alongside the hilarious letters from Julia that are peppered throughout the novel.
This book contains four of my favourite things in the whole of the reading world: an epistolary narrative, unreliable viewpoints, snarky characters and subversive female characters.
But first let me take a step back: it’s interesting to note to start with, I found it was difficult to read the novel – although it’s written in 1981, the writing style seems more old school than it should be, with a dense and wordy style I am simply not used to anymore. I was won over however, by the tongue-in-cheek narrative, the snark and eventually, I not only grew used to the style and tone but even came to care for the characters. Not all of them though: Hilary remained largely a mystery but the other barristers were delightful.
One of the things I did love the most was the group’s take on Julia’s personality and how they all seemed to really care about her. But how much of their perspective of Julia is based on their own biases? Because Julia herself, whom we came to know through her own snarky, astute letters, seems slightly different than what they all believe her to be. She is also sexually empowered (something that seems to be shared by her BFF too) and unabashedly searching for it.
With hilarious takes on British life, Shakespeare, and more, alongside a heady and slightly surprising no-fucks-given to the fact that several characters are on the Gay/Bi spectrum, the fact that Professor Hilary’s gender is not revealed and not part of the narrative at all, this was more than good. It was a delectable treat.
Thus Was Adonis Murdered is the first in a series of four novels featuring the same group of characters and I already added them all to my TBR.
Rating: 8 – Excellent