It is a fascinating read, which I can’t tell you too much about without triggering a spoiler alert. But it begins with marriage plans and the apparent suicide of the chorister scheduled to perform a solo at the ceremony. And this is closely followed by the murder of the choirmaster, which prompts suspicion and relief in equal measure throughout the town. What follows is the long search for justice, examining the suspects and their relationships.
So it’s a murder mystery. But it is also a description and an examination of a changing way of life in a provincial town, with its class consciousness and power structures, its received pronunciation and its ‘Dorzet’ dialect. Dorset in general and Wimborne in particular are central to the narratives. This is not a story that could be transported to any other part of the country: its truths, its authenticity, stem from its sense of place, which we see from the inside and the outside.
Nor could it be transported into another era. In 1840, Victoria is on the throne and the Victorian Age is off to a flying start. The railways are opening up the provinces, welcome to some, frightening to others. And by the end of the book, Darwin’s Origin of Species has been published. This new world-view reaches Wimborne as the story evolves to its conclusion.
So it’s a history book also. A social history. It is possible to read it as a form of allegory, with characters ‘representing’ their class, their status, their position. Don’t. They are far from stereotypes. Characters are developed with a gentle, nuanced, understated accumulation of detail over many episodes and more years.
I read Crow Court in a single sitting. I shall read it again because Andy Charman’s beautiful prose belies the issues of his subject matter. I shall read it again because it works on so many levels and I know it will repay my attentions. I shall read it again in order to master the Dorzet dialect, for which a glossary is helpfully included, as fascinating to read as an Amis footnote. Jill and I have already adopted ‘dewbit’ to describe our first morning meal.
Most of all, I shall read it again because it’s without doubt my book of the month and will probably be my book of the year. Unless I am very fortunate.
Today from the everysmith vaults: Yesterday was the birthday of Franz Schubert. I am celebrating with the String Quartet #15, played by the New Orford String Quartet.