Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Five Years of Friday's Forgotten Books, Day 9

Adrian McKinty is the author of The Dead Yard and Bloomsday Dead. (bio from 2008)

Thus Was Adonis Murdered, Sarah Caudwell.

Neither Thus Was Adonis Murdered nor any of Sarah Caudwell's other books are currently in print in the United States. Thus Was Adonis Murdered was the first in her series of four novels about a group of young crime solving barristers at London's Lincoln's Inn.
The story is narrated by legal academic Hilary Tamar who helps solve the mystery. I'm not going to provide any plot spoilers but I will say that the title tells you pretty much all you need to know at this stage.

Sarah Caudwell (1939 - 2000) was herself a lawyer who lived in London, part of the famous English Cockburn clan of journalists, writers and politicians.

There is little blood and violence in Caudwell's books, but they are certainly not cozies. They are far too sly and intelligent and, in their own way, dark for that. She understands people the way few novelists do. She has an almost outsider's perspective, looking with a gentle smile on the foibles of the human race from some benevolent Archimedean point in space.

Perhaps she is out of print because most of her plots involve arcane aspects of trusts, inheritance or tax law (no dont stop reading!) but they are laced through with a light touch and a rich humor that the non specialist will enjoy. If you are a lawyer and you wonder why your life isn't quite like The Pelican Brief, read Sarah Caudwell. She nails the blackletter nitty gritty of what it means to pratice law; the tedium, the lock picking intricacy of a case and the intellectual pleasure that comes from seeing something that no one else has spotted in a judgement or a brief.

Caudwell's prose is like that too. Oh so careful, oh so finely balanced, oh so quietly hilarious. If you like tight plots and clever people and you sometimes wonder why they don't make 'em like His Girl Friday anymore, read Sarah Caudwell and have fun.


Anonymous said...

I remember reading one of these and, I may be wrong but it seems to me that you couldn't figure out if Hilary was a man or a woman. It was well-written, but I was bothered by that detail. I like to imagine what characters look like, but without knowing Hilary's gender it was difficult.


Anonymous said...

Deb, you're right. Caudwell deliberately wrote Tamar so the reader couldn't tell if s/he was a man or a woman. But I still liked the four books very much.

Caudwell was quite a character herself. I saw her at a couple of conventions and found her accent almsot impenetrable.

Jeff M.