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The Sibyl in Her Grave [Hardcover]

Sarah Caudwell
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 2004
Is money really the root of all evil? Julia Larwood's aunt Regina needs help. It seems she and two friends pooled their modest resources and on the advice of another friend, invested in equities - big risk, but big return. And now the tax man is demanding his cut. The only problem is that Aunt Regina and her friends have already spent the money. The real question, however, is how did three amateur investors make a thousand percent profit in record time? That's a question which could be answered by psychic counsellor isabella del Comino, unpopular neighbour to Aunt Regina, but before she can give any answers she is found dead in her drawing room, her pet vulture acting as guardian over her corpse. That's when Julia Larwood calls in her old friend and mentor, Hilary Tamar, to follow a money trail that connects Aunt Regina and her friends to what appears to be capital fraud - and capital crime...
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous -- so sad it's the last one Feb. 12 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Sadly, this will be the last book featuring the adventures of Selena, Julia, Cantrip, Ragwort and their former Oxford tutor Hilary Tamar, as Sarah Caudwell died in 2000. Last is not least, though, as Caudwell again provides her readers with hilarious characters, suspicious situations, and just enough British tax law to keep things interesting.
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, ..
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Format:Mass Market Paperback
The point of Sarah Caudwell's meysteries was never the plot, or the plausibility. The novels are full of majestic letters no one would ever really write, wonderful characters who would never have the careers they have, and intriguing conversations that could never really happen. The pleasure of reading one of these books is, however, all the things that could never really happen.
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.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Too Much Cough Syrup Aug. 24 2001
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This was the first Sarah Caudwell novel I've read. Perhaps I should have started the series from the beginning, but I found myself unable to overcome my sense of implausability in this novel. I was surprised that the characters all wrote such long, frequent, and detailed letters - I was even more surprised that Hilary Tamar was allowed to read them all. I didn't like the main character because I didn't know anything about him or her, except that he or she talked a little too much in the manner of Sherlock Holmes. I enjoyed the various developments to the plot, until the point that the blame for three successful and several more attempted apparent murders took place. I felt that Ms. Caudwell took the expression "always the person you least suspect" far too literally. Couldn't the person at least BE a suspect? I'm sorry to be offending any Caudwell fans, and I'm very sorry to hear that she passed away, but I found the amount of coincidence truly excessive, the main character unlikeable, and, in short, I found that the best thing about the novel was the front cover (which was excellent.)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Only Four Books? What a pity... Aug. 23 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
There are only four of these entertaining mysteries, published infrequently from 1981 until the author's death at the age of 60 in 2000 (her real last name was Cockburn, which is interesting given her abiding interest in sexual practices). A pity, because they have their own unique style, if somewhat reminiscent of Christie's bright young things Tommy and Tuppence, or even Dornford Yates. One has to make allowance for the dubious sexual habits of many of the various characters, although that adds to the humor; it is not even certain whether Hilary Tamar is a man or a woman (my opinion is that he is an old poof who is too discrete and reticent ever to have indulged in anything carnal -- good old Uncle Hil). The tone is generally of Wodehousian comedy and complexity (a well-made drawing-room play), with touches of a nice satiric wit, often laugh-out-loud funny. Nearly everybody in these books is intelligent and well-spoken, glibly verbose, even the villains, making these books a pleasure to read as 'escapism' though hardly profound -- as long as you appreciate this sort of thing. Plots are complex, though not of the 'locked-room' type, the typical comedy of errors where there are lots of coincidences, suspects all having their own agendas in diverting sub-plots, and happening to be involved in a crucial way in the events. The last one has an incredible (but fine) spaghetti plot involving multiple poisonings, where actual murder keeps getting pushed up and shot down until the final revelation -- a Mozart symphony of plotting. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Devilishly erudite.
As a student of literature I spend most of my time reading literature from the British canon--learned, sometimes difficult, prose. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars For those who tolerate litotes
Caudwell fans have to be lovers of long convoluted sentences and elaborate figures of speech with scraps of Latin and French. Read more
Published on Nov. 11 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars The last Caudwell gem
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 more
Published on Aug. 15 2000 by Lynn Harnett
5.0 out of 5 stars Call it the new book or the last book?
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 more
Published on Aug. 11 2000 by Jeffrey L. Barbalics
5.0 out of 5 stars Caudwell's Swansong
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 more
Published on July 17 2000 by JACK C. BROWN
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny cerebral mystery
It begins as a favor between friends. Ricky Farnsham of Parson Haver, West Sussex, England, provides some stock tips to the town vicar, Maurice Dulcimar and his friends Griselda... Read more
Published on July 12 2000 by Harriet Klausner
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