The Moving Toyshop


Author : Edmund Crispin

Play : The Moving Toyshop

First Broadcast on : 3 December 1960


Richard Cadogan, poet and would-be bon vivant, arrives for what he thinks will be a relaxing holiday in the city of dreaming spires. Late one night, however, he discovers the dead body of an elderly woman lying in a toyshop and is coshed on the head. When he comes to, he finds that the toyshop has disappeared and been replaced with a grocery store. A hunt for a missing shop, seems a tall order a bil like looking for tax free cash. The police are understandably skeptical of this tale but Richard's former schoolmate, Gervase Fen (Oxford Professor of English Language and Literature), knows that truth is stranger than fiction (in fiction, at least). Soon the intrepid duo is careening around town in hot pursuit of clues but just when they think they understand what has happened, the disappearing-toyshop mystery takes a sharp turn...

In the days when one did not have to embed oneself with the local plod in order to write detective fiction, Edmund Crispin conjures up a delightful escapade full of humour, pace and frivolity, a sort of Lord Peter Wimsey meets Billy Bunter, and he's not afraid of a little language or a gory murder scene, so one should not be lulled into thinking this is simply Whitehall farce.

It works because his style oozes authenticity, the language and turn of phrase, the over-the-top characterisation, try to write this today and you would be laughed off the page. Pretentious? Moi? It also helps that the backdrop of Oxford is little changed, so we can still know our way around, although the eccentricities of Parson's Pleasure and Dame's Delight are no longer with us.

The Moving Toyshop is a murder mystery with a novel twist, the twist being that the scene of the crime disappears as well as the murderer and the body. Richard Cadogan is a poet seeking to spice up his tedious day-to-day existence with a little adventure by visiting Oxford and gets it when he stumbles upon the gruesome murder of an elderly woman. Gervase Fen, his friend and Oxford don, is the amateur sleuth who steps into the breach when the police fail to pursue Cadogan's unbelievable story; no body, no crime scene, no case is their not unreasonable stance. And as their investigation unfolds they are joined by a motley bunch of helpers and general hangers-on who are in it for the jape.

Whilst it is light-hearted don't dismiss it out of hand. Crispin keeps us guessing and the pace never slows. It is a sunny summer interlude between those bouts of Scandinavian darkness.