Crispin is a poet of dinginess. Luckily for him, the British movie industry is the world’s dingiest — or was in 1950, when this book was published. (And thank you, Classic Crime division of Penguin, for reviving it in 1982.)
Though it’s written after the great English writers — E. M. Forster, the last, and perhaps the greatest, published his last novel in 1924 — Frequent Hearses contains the knowing inflections of their work. Let’s listen to a little:
Now in this decision, that softening of the intellect in which Mr. Snerd’s ever-growing confidence had resulted is very clearly exemplified. He realised, of course, that once the letter was published there would no longer be any discretionary bar to Miss Crane’s reporting its theft to the police; he realised that Felicity would know him for the culprit. But he was foolish enough to suppose that for fear of losing her job Felicity would not denounce him; and even if she did, he fondly imagined that providing he never saw her again his pseudonym would protect him.
(The protagonist, Professor Gervase Fen, is an Alexander Pope scholar. The title is taken from Pope’s “Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady”:
Thus, if eternal justice rules the ball,
Thus shall your wives, and thus your children fall;
On all the line a sudden vengeance waits,
And frequent hearses shall besiege your gates.
You may speculate for yourself how frequent are the hearses in this narrative.)