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Literature / Gervase Fen

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Gervase Fen, professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford, is the protagonist of a series of comic detective novels, written by Edmund Crispin (a pseudonym of Bruce Montgomery).

These novels provide examples of:

  • Ambiguous Situation: In the short story "The Little Room" it's not clear if the victim was murdered or if she cut her own throat from despair after being locked up by the story's villain.
  • Barsetshire: The setting of Buried for Pleasure: a cluster of rural villages.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Fen knows he's in a novel, and doesn't hesitate to say so.
  • Burn the Witch!: In Holy Disorders the city of Tolnbridge has a history of witch-burning. Various characters take the trouble to point how unusual this was, when the normal punishment was hanging.
  • Character Filibuster: In Buried for Pleasure, Fen is standing as an independent candidate in a local by-election. By the time of his final speech, he's so disgusted with politics that his speech (transcribed at full length) is a denunciation of the whole notion of politics and a plea for the traditional British spirit of apathy.
  • The Charmer: In The Moving Toyshop Hoskins can charm any woman by offering her chocolates and telling her not to be alarmed.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In Holy Disorders, Fen's hobby of collecting insects turns out to be crucial at the climax.
  • Crisis of Faith: Played with in Holy Disorders — the character who loses faith in his profession isn't a priest, but a psychoanalyst.
  • Description in the Mirror: Parodied in Glimpses of the Moon:
    Here he paused by the mirror, from which, not unexpectedly, his own face looked out at him. In the fifteen years since his last appearance, he seemed to have changed very little... At this rate, he felt, he might even live to see the day when novelists described their characters by some other device than that of manoeuvring them into examining themselves in mirrors.
  • Detective Mole: In Buried for Pleasure, the murderer is the local police superintendent.
  • Domestic Abuse: The titular victim in "The Drowning of Edgar Foley" was a notorious wife-beater, which led to his death.
  • Doom It Yourself: In Buried for Pleasure, the landlord of the Fish Inn attempts to carry out renovation works himself, building to a disaster that everyone's been predicting through the book.
  • Decided by One Vote: The by-election in Buried for Pleasure has the winner come out one vote ahead of his two rivals, who are tied on the same total. Then, when the winner is disqualified for breaking spending limits, the returning officer's casting vote resolves the tie.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Fen claims he is a careful driver who never takes unnecessary risks. This is very far from being the case.
  • Glowing Gem: In the short story "The Mischief Done", the solution to the mystery relies on the "fact" that diamonds glow in the dark after lengthy exposure to bright light.
  • Grail in the Garbage: In Love Lies Bleeding, a collection of priceless manuscripts (for which people would commit murder) is found by a plumber fitting a new stove. Neither he nor the householder recognise their significance.
  • Homage: Holy Disorders has one to Montague Rhodes James: a diary left by a corrupt bishop, who seduced a 17-year old member of his congregation and had her burned as a witch to cover up the affair, only for her ghost to take revenge on him.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: Deconstructed in "The Little Room", in which the villain, who probably murdered a young woman and at the very least falsely imprisoned her, cannot be charged with either crime due to lack of evidence. The police can and do charge her with concealing a body to prevent an inquest, but this carries a maximum sentence of about a week in jail so she pretty much gets away with it anyway.
  • Karma Houdini: A few of the short stories end with the villain getting away, such as "The Little Room", "The Golden Mean" and likely the blackmailer in "The Drowning of Edgar Foley".
  • Literary Allusion Title:
    • The Gilded Fly is a reference to King Lear.
    • The Long Divorce is part of a line from Henry VIII.
    • The Moving Toyshop and Frequent Hearses are both quotations from Alexander Pope.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: The premise of The Moving Toyshop.
  • Music to Invade Poland to: invokedDiscussed by the characters in Swan Song, since it's set at the staging of a Wagner opera immediately after the Second World War.
  • My Car Hates Me: Fen's car, Lily Christine III, has a habit of breaking down at the most inconvenient moments for Fen (such as when he has to get somewhere as quickly as possible to prevent a murder).
  • Phrase Catcher: One character in Holy Disorders is called Henry Fielding; everyone who meets him seems compelled to ask if he's the author of Tom Jones.
  • Put on a Bus: Fen's wife Dolly appears only in the first book.
  • Right in Front of Me: In Swan Song, as everyone arrives at The Summation, Elizabeth is asking "But I thought Charles Shorthouse lived with some awful woman called Beatrix Thorn?" — only for Fen to reply "Here is Miss Thorn. In the flesh."
  • Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts: The method in Swan Song to make it appear that the victim had hanged himself.
  • The Scrappy: invokedIn The Moving Toyshop, Fen and one of his sidekicks decide to pass the time by naming fictional characters they detest, whom the author intended as sympathetic. They come up with Beatrice and Benedick, Lady Chatterley and "that gamekeeper fellow", Britomart, "almost everyone in Dostoevsky", "those vulgar little man-hunting minxes in Pride and Prejudice", and the Leech-Gatherer. At which point, they are interrupted by an outraged Jane Austen fanboy... who just happens to give them the next clue they need.
  • Shakespeare in Fiction: The McGuffin in Love Lies Bleeding is a manuscript of the lost Shakespeare play Love's Labours Won.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In The Long Divorce, Fen adopts the pseudonym Datchery to make a covert investigation. The local police inspector privately complains that anyone familiar with Dickens will recognise the allusion and realise what he's doing.
    • In Buried for Pleasure, two rural characters admit they've been mollocking.
    • In Swan Song, a journalist asking Fen for an interview says she's also hoping to interview Sir Henry Merrivale, Mrs Bradley and Albert Campion.
    • In Holy Disorders, Fen is offended at the idea of calling in Inspector Appleby when he, Fen, is already on the spot. Though he acknowledges Appleby is "very good".
    • There are also nods to real inhabitants of Oxford at the time; in The Moving Toyshop Fen mentions an essay by Philip Larkin, and in Swan Song, Fen points out C. S. Lewis as he passes.
  • Stereotype Flip: In Buried for Pleasure, the Conservative and Labour candidates are deliberately chosen against their parties' usual stereotypes — the Conservative candidate is a labourer who's been to night classes, and the Labour candidate a wealthy industrialist.
  • Twisted Eucharist: In Holy Disorders the protagonists attend a Black Mass in disguise, in the hope of picking up clues.