My nan had mentioned this book for me to suggest to the E17 Book Club. We actually had about 5 picks to choose from for our Feb/March read, but I was lucky enough to have this one win when put to the vote!
The Moving Toyshop was first published in 1945, but is actually set in 1938 – mainly in Oxford. Before reading I didn’t realise it was part of a series (apparently number three in the Gervase Fen set according to Goodreads).
Richard Cadogan, poet and would-be bon-vivant travels from London on search of ‘an adventure’. That night he finds the body of an elderly woman in an Oxford toyshop, and is then hit on the head. When he comes to, he finds that the toyshop has disappeared and been replaced with a grocery store.
What comes after this is a delightful mix of detective and mystery and an absolutely glorious old English ‘caper’ of a story.
There is something delightfully whimsical and comforting about posh men in suits and hats rushing around towns like Oxford getting into scrapes, saying ‘jolly’ and ‘golly’ a lot and ending up in the most surreal situations.
And the language used is fantastic – so archaic, along with casual sexism which becomes rather endearing when it’s put into context (this IS 1938 after all!). There were so many parts of this book that had me literally laughing out loud. I will share a few, just to whet your appetite.
“…piled high like the gimcrack splendours of a proletarian heaven.” – even my kindle dodn’t know what ‘gimcrack ‘was!
“‘Look’, he said. ‘It will be better if we both talk about the same subject at the same time. This isn’t a Chekov play’.”
“There was no ring on her left gand, and the flatness of her breats had already suggested that she was unmarried.” – now this one confuses me, was she unmarried as she had flat breasts, or because she was not likely to have had children thus creating larger breasts?
I also loved the list of shops on the High Street as they were running – it shows a far different view than what we have now: “A chemist’s and a draper’s. Farther to teh right, a butcher, a baker, a stationery shop; and to the left, a corn merchant, a hat shop, and another chemist…”
One of my favourite lines was a description of Gervase Fen himself: “He had on an enormous raincoat and carried an extraordinary hat.” nothing else was said about the hat – I have no idea why it was so extraordinary! This made me giggle
And another description, this time of a lawyer: “He looked a trifle seedy, and one suspected that his professional abilities were mediocre.”
Oh I could carry on at greta length quoting parts that I really loved – Fen suggesting to Crispin (the author!) names for his next novel; the Benny Hill style chase through Oxford, and the fact that the girl had to sit outside the baths (as it was male only0 while they carried on chasing each other in there; the fact that Fen had ‘once made love to a girl over there, but not very well’; the aniquated names they call each other and the description of The Colossal (one of the smallest and most disreputable cinemas ever contrived).
But instead, I am just going to suggest you read it. It wont take you very long and will definitely put a smile on even the sternest of faces!