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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.
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.
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