Thus Was Adonis Murdered (Hilary Tamar #1) by Sarah Caudwell

[rating=5] Excellent good fun! I tried to read this once before and stopped after a pitiable four of five pages because the prose was too dense and academic for my state of mind at the time. If I had only had someone to urge me on to the completion of Chapter Two, which includes a hilarious letter from the accused, I would have seen the lighter side of Caudwell’s tale of murder and art history, and persevered.

Alas, I had no such guide, and wasted several years having this book sit on my shelf unread and unappreciated, when I should have been singing its praises. Hallelujah, gentle reader! You can now benefit from the wisdom I then lacked.

This lovely little mystery is British in the extreme, despite its events occurring mostly in the canals, alleys and palazzos of Venice, Italy.

Some unconventional storytelling takes place, in that we have the crime related to us in an epistolary fashion, via letters posted while on holiday. This correspondence recounts in amusing detail the suspects, the setting, and important clues, all the while providing some nice tidbits of Italian cultural history, which made me very much want to visit that country with its Campari sodas and plentiful coffee shops all over again.

Yet more unorthodox is the laissez-faire attitude towards gender and sexuality in the book. Not only are same-sex relationships at the core of the mystery, involving men in love with men, women who are disposed to sleep with men who are comfortable with their bisexuality, and flirtatious and misunderstandings between ladies embracing while in a state of distress/undress, but more unusually, the sex of Professor Hilary Tamar, our erstwhile detective, is never explicitly revealed.

Male or female, Hilary solves the crime using methods that even Sherlock might find inscrutable – by the application of scholarly disciplines, including the science of textual criticism, a smattering of cunning translations, a bit of gumshoe work at art galleries and the like, and the setting out of bait for certain suspects to separate the red herrings from the really stinky fish.

I did not figure out the ending, although there were clues enough to tip me off, but I enjoyed the tale immensely and polished off all 314 pages in record time.

If you enjoy the casual bickering of Oxford and Cambridge graduates, the snobby intellectualism of the elite, law jokes, art jokes, Shakespeare jokes, sex jokes, or investigators who solve crimes with no direct access to the corpse, scene of the crime, or even being in the same country in which the crime was committed (putting one up on Rex Stout’s formidable Nero Wolfe, to be sure!) then I can say with confidence that you will enjoy Sarah Caudwell’s ‘Thus Was Adonis Murdered’. The Edward Gorey covers on the original paperbacks are also a source of unending delight for any mystery lover with an aesthetic sense.

If you are squeamish about LGBTQ relationships, don’t appreciate Latin interjections, or object to classical references such as Endymion or Praxiteles being used as descriptive shortcuts, this book may not be quite your cup of tea. Personally, I thought it was masterful.

For more mysterious legal goings on…

1) Book Two: Sarah Caudwell’s ‘The Shortest Way to Hades’

2) Book Three: Sarah Caudwell’s ‘The Sirens Sang of Murder’

3) Book Four: Sarah Caudwell’s ‘The Sibyl in Her Grave’

5 of 5 stars / bookshelves: read, mystery, comedy, travel. 314 pages, Publisher: Dell. (1981)
Read from April 01 to 07, 2013

2012: Quickie Recap

So, here we are. It’s 2013, it’s February, it’s cold; the perfect time to catch up on my blogging.
What the heck have I been doing for the last 12 months?

TRAVEL – Despite my resolve not to mosey around too much while on my leave of absence, I did a solo trip to Thailand, and also visited Iceland and Greece with Darren. Iceland was amazing, I would love to go back, even though we spent an insane amount of the trip driving.

CULTURE – I did a lot of reading. According to the all-knowing Goodreads, I read 66 books in 2012, which is more than one a week and also 26 more books than my reading total in 2011. I’ve set myself the more modest challenge of reading 50 books in 2013, since I’ll be working full time but will hopefully be able to read or at least listen to audiobooks while commuting).

CREATIVITY – I finished 12 knit projects, including 3 cowls, 3 scarves, 2 lace shawls, a hat, legwarmers, wrist cuffs and my first ever cardigan – it is lovely and stripey but seriously warm and it sheds a bit. Need to return to my abandoned Sonnets Librivox project. On the internet, I reached my 1000th tweet.

COMMUNITY – I decided to do more volunteering, so I joined Oakville’s “Friends of the Library” executive in October, and did my first Book Sale with them in November. As of last week’s AGM, I am now their Media & Communications lead.

EMOTIONAL – I celebrated my fourth anniversary with Darren long-distance, as he was in Nepal at the time.

BREWING – After two years of producing homebrewed wines of varying quality – Drunk Robot (yum), Space Madness (good for sangria only) – I am disappointed to report no 2012 vintage. Remedied that last weekend by brewing what I hope will be a nice malbec.

ACTIVITY – I fell down on the physical front. Exercise was not big on the agenda for 2012 – I only ran in one measly 5k, the Ford Race to End Diabetes at Coronation Park, Oakville in April. I did do a lot of long, lazy 20-30km bike rides over the summer, but that’s nothing next to the roster of six races in 2011!

HOUSING – After selling our condo in Toronto back in April 2012, Darren and I took up residence with my Mum in her townhouse in Oakville. Darren went off to travel, and while he was globetrotting, my Mum found an ideal low-maintenance apartment near the lake, and decided she wanted to live on her own again. I took over the mortgage, Mum moved out, and so Darren and I are residing in a townhouse in suburbia and commuting to the city to work… For now.

To remedy this situation, I’ve signed up for a couple of runs in 2013: the Harry Rosen High Park Spring Run-Off 8k on April 6, the Sporting Life 10k on April 21, the Midsummer Night’s Run 15k on August 17, and the Oakville Half Marathon 10k on September 22.

The biggest physical challenge I’ll be facing in 2013 is my first ever Ride to Conquer Cancer – 200kms in 2 days on a new Giant Avail 3 road bike I’ve just bought.

2013 is also starting out with the purchase of a new (used) car: a little red 2008 Honda Fit that I’ll pick up from the dealer on Tuesday. I applied for my first Ontario Outdoors Card and fishing license, hoping to fish with my friend Amy now that we can go car camping. I’ve signed up for a Sunday afternoon Boot camp and Monday night Cyclates at the local community centre, and am considering Fencing lessons later this summer. Hoping to pick up a community garden for growing veggies in as well.

That’s 2012 in a nutshell. Looking forward to what 2013 will bring!