The Sibyl in Her Grave Hardcover – Aug 2004
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For mystery lovers and literary connoisseurs alike, 2000 was a year of loss. Gone are two masters of language, one with over 30 works to his credit (George V. Higgins), the other with only four (Sarah Caudwell). It is some comfort that each gave readers one last glimpse of literary skill before passing on: Higgins (At End of Day) captured the way people really speak; Caudwell captured the way many people would dearly love to speak. Her first three novels (The Shortest Way to Hades, Thus Was Adonis Murdered, The Sirens Sang of Murder) brought readers into the elegant, urbane world of Hilary Tamar, Oxford fellow and mentor to London barristers Cantrip, Selena, Ragwort, and Julia. Caudwell's last work, The Sibyl in Her Grave, continues the intoxicating blend of dry humor and genteel manners that marked her as a successor to Dorothy Sayers.
The sibyl of the title is the psychic counselor Isabella del Comino, who descends in a flurry of bad taste to the Sussex village of Parsons Haver. With an aviary of ravens, a frumpy niece, and a penchant for combining divinations and blackmail, her sudden death comes as a relief to the village's disgruntled inhabitants, including Julia's redoubtable Aunt Regina. Regina has enough to worry about: she and two friends pooled their resources and invested in equities--and made a killing. But now the tax man is demanding his share, and the money has already been spent. When she asks Julia for legal advice, Julia and her colleagues discover that both Regina's fiscal success and Isabella's death are connected to an insider-trading scandal brewing with Julia's biggest clients. Unraveling that connection, of course, is a task that falls to Hilary.
Hilary, who "labors always in the service of Scholarship," is a triumph of authorial ambiguity. After four novels, readers will be left wondering, apparently unto eternity, whether Professor Tamar is a man or a woman. Take it as a political statement if you will--or simply as another little mystery, courtesy of an author who reveled in the power of words to clarify, outline, elucidate, and obscure. --Kelly Flynn --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Published posthumously, Caudwell's final Hilary Tamar mystery finds the androgynous Oxford professor and his (or her) coterie of junior barristers untangling a complicated case of insider trading and murder. While barrister Julia Larwood is mulling over a panicky letter from her aunt, Regina Sheldon, about taxes owed on certain recent investments, her colleague, Selena Jardine, is coincidentally advising Sir Robert Renfrews, chairman of Renfrews' Bank, on the mysterious leaking of top-secret business gossip that has somehow reached Aunt Regina and her two investment cronies. The conduit of information proves to be Aunt Regina's new neighbor, Isabella del Comino, a self-styled "psychic counselor," who may be blackmailing one of two rising directors at the bank. Isabella's sudden death and the emergence of her pathetic but creepy niece, Daphne, raise concerns: did one of the bank directors murder Isabella, and will Daphne, or possibly even Aunt Regina, be next? Mining Barbara Pym country for tipsy vicars and high-strung spinsters, Caudwell has produced a droll, rather retro whodunit, updated only by the barest hint of same-sex dalliance. In addition, the young barristers have time to deconstruct wordy epistles from a suburban aunt and to natter on in stiff-upper-lip British diction about bookshelves and vacations as if they were back in the junior common room. It's all highly artificial, but Caudwell's crafty plotting and knowing wit will keep readers happily diverted. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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THE TWO MEN struggling on the floor of the Clerks' Room differed widely in appearance: one young, of slender build, dressed in cotton and denim, with honey-coloured hair worn rather long and a pleasing delicacy of feature; the other perhaps in his sixties, tending to plumpness, wearing a pinstriped suit, with the round, pink face face of a bad-tempered baby and very little hair at all. Read the first page
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Top Customer Reviews
This installment centers on Julia Larwood's aunt Regina, who lives in the innocent-sounding town of Parsons Haver, West Sussex. This being Caudwell and not Christie, however, the town is populated with the same kind of oddball, interesting characters the rest of her books are (for instance: the town's newest resident is a psychic who keeps a flock of ravens and a vulture in her drawing room). Regina needs advice from Julia on a tax question; she and some friends have made quite a bit of money investing in shares in different companies and they are now being asked to pay a large capital gains tax. Strangely, their investment plan was identical to that of someone apparently involved in insider dealing at the bank of one of Selena's clients. But what is the connection? That's what this band of amateur sleuths sets out to discover.
As in Caudwell's other books, much of the action is explained through correspondence, in this case mostly letters from Regina to Julia, although other characters do take up the pen. The device works well; it allows the reader to see the story from several first-person perspectives at the same time and to get a better understanding of each of the characters who write. The book isn't all letters and no action, of course; several trips are made to Parsons Haver, Regina comes to London, and action on the bank connections sends characters to locations ranging from Cannes to Scotland. Stones fly through windows, ..Read more ›
It's hard to know how to help someone decide whether they would like this book (or the other three the author wrote before she died last year). I'd say that if you like Wodehouse, you will probably like this (but I hate Wodehouse myself). People who like Benson's Lucia books will likely enjoy these. And, oddly, if you are one of the people who loves Pamela Dean's _Tam_Lin_, you will no doubt find these mysteries engaging.
The books are full of improbable plots, which at least don't fall apart until you reflect on them later. The plots are as tangled as a pile of extra-long spaghetti, which makes it all the more fun when the professor untangles them. If you want realism, look elsewhere. If you want beautiful lanugage, interesting characters and acerbic humor, and you are willing to take that wrapped up in a mystery, you'll love these books.
Most recent customer reviews
As a student of literature I spend most of my time reading literature from the British canon--learned, sometimes difficult, prose. Read morePublished on Jan. 2 2002
Caudwell fans have to be lovers of long convoluted sentences and elaborate figures of speech with scraps of Latin and French. Read morePublished on Nov. 11 2000
Although British author Sarah Caudwell wrote only four Hilary Tamar comedy-of-manners mysteries before her death in January, the long wait between each of them only whetted her... Read morePublished on Aug. 15 2000 by Lynn Harnett
I enjoyed this erudite book (as I had the other three)to the point that I wound up at an outside cafe balancing a tealight on the book so I could finish reading it after that sun... Read morePublished on Aug. 11 2000 by Jeffrey L. Barbalics
When I first stumbled upon Sarah Caudwell's mystery fiction it was as if I were encountering a sly witty persona with whom I wanted to become a good friend. Read morePublished on July 17 2000 by JACK C. BROWN