Another stupendous installment of the madcap adventures of the gang at 62 and 63 New Square! This time, the mystery has the same background story as John Grisham’s The Firm, but it is deeeelightful, instead of being kind of dark and boring. Again, what I find wonderful about all of Caudwell’s books is that the unraveling of the stories are so light and fun, but the denouement always has a sense of insight into the depth of misunderstanding and tragedy of which humans are capable. These characters resonate with me, and I love them whether they are slipping on banana peels or prying into the heart and mind of a murderer.
I listened to this one on audio, and I must use the word “splendid” about the audio because it was so British in its greatness. I highly recommend it. This one has more Cantrip than some of the others, which I loved because I think Cantrip is a hilarious character. There is a joke at the beginning about how he learns to use the telex machine (I know, quaint! I am still not positive what a telex machine is, but it seems like sounds kind of like a cross between email and fax), and he suddenly has to send telexes to everyone he can find a number for. He’s, like, one of the original trolls. Brilliant. I love all the lawyers, though. Julia’s wonderful tax planning advice is great, and Selena’s advocacy, and Ragwort’s disapproval of it all. Why do people read stupid Grisham and Ludlum and the like? Sorry, fans, but I cannot abide those people and their boring redundancy. Caudwell kicks their asses.
I guess she does basically hit everything I love in every book: law, literature, gender, slapstick, melodrama. Really the only thing missing is the characters bursting out into a Whedon-esque song and dance. Otherwise, it’s all in there. And she doesn’t really repeat on the sex and gender stuff, either. It seems different and new in every book. I’m going to copy for you this really wonderful exchange that Caudwell uses with artistry that I think is genius in this book:”There is nothing to worry about,” said Julia, with an excess of confidence which I found in itself alarming. “I have worked out a strategy for dealing with him. I intend to model my behaviour in all respects on that of my Aunt Regina. My Aunt Regina, so far as I can discover, doesn’t believe that men progress much morally or intellectually after the age of six, and she treats them accordingly. She always gets on splendidly with men like the Colonel – two of her husbands were of just the same type.”
“My dear Julia,” said Ragwort, “your ambition to deal with men in the same manner as your Aunt Regina is very laudable. From the point of view of realism, however, it is somewhat similar to your deciding to play tennis in the style of Miss Martina Navratilova.”
“The trouble is,” said Selena, with a certain wistfulness, “that you and I, Julia, have been brought up in an era of emancipation and enlightenment, and we have got into the habit of treating men as if they were normal, responsible, grown-up people. We engage them in discussion; we treat their opinions as worthy of quite serious consideration; we seek to influence their behavior by rational argument rather than by some simple system of rewards and punishments. It’s all a great mistake, of course, and only makes them confused and miserable – especially men like the Colonel, who have grown up with the idea that women will tell them what they ought to do without their having to think about it for themselves. But I’m afraid it’s too late to put the clock back.”
Incidentally, if you listen to the audio of these books, you realize that Julia’s Aunt Regina’s name rhymes with vagina. . . . So, that was a pleasant surprise. Last night, inspired by this book and the Oregon legal community, I spent some delightful hours with friends talking about the potential of someone named Regina Sarcombe sizing us up.
Anyway, I love the way this book both lightheartedly and tragically shows relationships between men and women. It shows how people are very silly and very passionate, in just the way I see people as silly and passionate. I read something on wikipedia about the series - that it suffers from being too detached, or something? I agree that there is a beautifully British ironical detachment in the right places, but where the stories should be compassionate and touching, they are that as well. These are wonderful books, and I’m a little sad that I gave the first two to a friend. I will have to find new copies so that I can have a complete set. Oh, but it looks like there are some very tempting hardcovers out there. I resolve that I shall wait until I get paid, but after that there are no guaranties that my hardcover collection won’t get a little fatter.