Thus Was Adonis Murdered
March 6, 2024 2:51 PM - Subscribe

Reduced to near penury by the iniquitous demands of the Inland Revenue, young barrister Julia Larwood spends the last of her savings on an Art Lovers holiday to Venice. She can't pay her taxes if she takes a vacation, but then again she can't pay her taxes if she doesn't take a vacation. Likewise, her friends worry about her ability to go it alone in a strange city, but that's also true in London. So why not? Her penchant for disaster outdoes itself, though, when a fellow Art Lover is found murdered, himself an employee of the Inland Revenue, with Julia's inscribed copy of the Finance Act beside his corpse.
posted by fleacircus (5 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I remember reading this series back in the ?80s? and enjoying it very much. Of course it was a big thing to me back then to try to figure out Professor Tamar's gender.

It wouldn't matter so much now. I need to go back and re-read them. Thanks for mentioning the book!
posted by Archer25 at 6:48 PM on March 6

A protagonist of unspecified gender, Edward Gorey covers (at least on the older copies I had to search out in used bookstores), Oxbridge snobbery, an epistolary murder mystery that reads like Wodehouse...what's not to like?

It's a pity that Caudwell only wrote four novels and a few stories; they're all tremendously entertaining.

"It is about an hour and a half since you left me at the airport. Things, since you left, have not gone well with me: they have taken me from a place where there was gin to a place where there is no gin, and from a place where I could smoke to a place where I cannot smoke. That is to say, from the departure lounge to the aeroplane. They have also taken my passport."
posted by bcwinters at 7:18 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]

I first read this in 2011 as a newly-qualified barrister and even then it was a fascinating mixture of a world becoming very familiar to me but already changing from the English Bar of the 1970s that Caudwell depicted. Many aspects still ring true today though, such as this splendid explanation of the role of a Barristers’ Clerk:

Henry is the Clerk at 62 New Square. From references which will from time to time be made to him some of my readers, unfamiliar with the system, may infer that Selena and the rest are employed by Henry under a contract more or less equivalent of one of personal servitude. I should explain that this is not the case: they employ Henry. It is Henry's function, in exchange for ten per cent of their earnings, to deal on their behalf with the outside world: to administer, manage and negotiate; to extol their merits, gloss over their failings, justify their fees and extenuate their delays; to flatter those clients whose patronage is most lucrative; to write reproachfully to those who delay payment for more than two years or so; to promise with equal conviction in the same morning that six separate sets of papers will be the first to receive attention. By the outside world, I mean, of course, solicitors: nothing could be more improper than for a member of the English Bar to have dealings, without the intervention of a solicitor, with a member of the general public.
posted by Major Clanger at 12:19 AM on March 7 [4 favorites]

I'm still reading this. It's fun of course and unrelentingly witty. I can't remember now where I came across a recommendation to read Caudwell. I'd never heard of her before. If it was some MeFite who might read this: thank you!

There's a pall over my reading though, because Robert Bork has some quote that makes him sound like a big fan, and thinking of that kind of smug self-satisfied conservative type really makes me feel a disgust with the entire profession, and with British elites too by spillover, and even while I'm enjoying it and laughing I'm imagining burning the whole thing down.

The format of friends reading a letter together and commenting on it is so great of course.

The driest laugh I've had so far is when the boys react to Julia bonding with Marylou, and Selena's response which I read as a combination of like, "no comment" "I want to die right now" "I'm right here you know" etc.
      ‘Interesting,’ said Ragwort.
      ‘Interesting?’ said Cantrip, almost choking on his steak Diane. ‘Interesting? Absolutely sickening is what I call it. I don’t know what it is about Julia. She only has to sit back and look helpless—which, God knows, I admit she is—and some misguided girl turns up and starts taking care of her. It’s just like a baby cuckoo. What a baby cuckoo does is get itself hatched in someone else’s nest. Then it just sits there with its beak open, looking hungry. And the birds the nest belongs to, instead of chucking it over the edge, get this irresistible urge to shovel food down it. Same effect as Julia has on girls. And what’s more, they’re usually jolly attractive girls, who ought to have something better to do than collect worms for Julia.’
      ‘The ways of Nature,’ said Selena, ‘are indeed very wonderful.’
posted by fleacircus at 2:40 PM on March 7

Oh, I read this a few years ago, actually on a mefite's recommendation, I believe. A delightful little mystery, clever story and great tone and dialogue. Thanks for reminding me I need to read the rest!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 6:59 PM on March 17

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