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I jolly well do have a soul.

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Mood: Hungry.

Music: None (shocking, I know).

The full quote this title comes from goes as follows:

‘I jolly well do have a soul,’ said Cantrip.
     ‘Well, don’t tell Julia,’ said Selena, ‘It’ll only upset her.’

Thus Was Adonis Murdered
(the book this review is about) is written by Sarah Caudwell, it was published in 1981, and is told from the view of Hilary Tamar, a Professor of Medieval Law.

I didn’t notice it while reading the book, and indeed it might never have come to my attention if it hadn’t been mentioned in Sarah Caudwell’s wiki page (I do some amount of background research for these reviews – wiki is a useful place to stop off for general facts), but we’re never actually told if Tamar is a woman or man. I assumed Tamar was female – partly from the name, partly from little bits in the novel, such as Tamar’s study of her fellow characters. However, I may be wrong… thoughts? Opinions? Should I start a poll on Tamar’s gender? Let me know.

Back to the book. It’s part comedy, part murder mystery, part study of English tax law. While reading it, I was half tempted to get out a notebook and start writing down things I needed to look up – not all to do with tax law, mind you, but also some French terms and references to Greek mythology that I didn’t quite understand. By no means did my lack of understanding for some of these things take away enjoyment of the novel – Caudwell does a nice job of balancing things, so one isn’t completely lost. Still, I wouldn’t suggest skimming the thing.

The thing that sets this book apart from other murder mysteries was the dialogue. Without it, it was your usual plot of who killed the corpse, and the usual plan of checking off suspects. However, the dialogue, the interaction between characters, takes it to it’s own level. I’ll give you another quote from the book – it isn’t likely to spoil anything, just give you a taste.

‘I don’t believe Shakespeare told Julia to try fainting,’ said Cantrip. ‘He’s dead.’
‘She is referring,’ said Selena, ‘to his early poem “Venus and Adonis”. Julia read it at an impressionable age and has since regarded it as a sort of seduction manual.’
  ‘It is a most indelicate work,’ said Ragwort. ‘Not at all suitable reading for a young girl.’
‘It’s hardly Julia’s fault,’ said Selena. ‘They told her at school that Shakespeare was educational.’
‘As I recall,’ I said, ‘the methods employed by the goddes in her pursuit of Adonis, though forceful, achieved only limited success. Doesn’t Julia find that discouraging?’
‘No,’ said Selena. ‘No. On this point alone, she believes that Shakespeare has been less than candid. She is persuaded, you see, that the poem is based on personal experience. The historical evidence shows that he yielded.’

I laughed out loud when I read that part. Humor such as that shows up quite often in the book, which delights me, especially the quote this title comes from – jokes like that come up between my friends and I constantly, and to see it reflected in the novel made it seem more companion than book.

So, my rating for this book is a solid ten. Though the ending, that is to say, the way the murder is explained, seems somewhat clichéd, it’s still well worth reading. 

I have the other three books that Caudwell wrote in this series – I’ll read and review them soon. Right this moment, however, I need food.

S.

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