Wait. Let me begin at the beginning. Back in the early ’90s, I discovered Caudwell’s books. There were three of them, legal whodunits that read like a glass of champagne: fizzy, light, intoxicatingly delicious. Each of them revolves around a legal crime, investigated and solved in a leisurely, I’d-rather-do-this-than-do-any-work sort of way by a group of young barristers at Lincoln’s Inn: Michael Cantrip, Desmond Ragwort, Julia Larwood, and (my own favorite and alter ego) Selena Jardine. The books are narrated by their friend and mentor, Hilary Tamar, a professor of Medieval Law, whose gender is never revealed — though this isn’t an interesting gender-play, just a small running joke. The mysteries are enchanting: sly puzzles, witty comedies of manners. Look at this, from the first book, Thus Was Adonis Murdered:
On my first day in London I made an early start. Reaching the Public Records Office not much after ten, I soon secured the papers needed for my research and settled in my place. I became, as is the way of the scholar, so deeply absorbed as to lose all consciousness of my surroundings or the passage of time. When at last I came to myself it was almost eleven, and I was quite exhausted: I knew I could not prudently continue without refreshment.
The last of the three, The Sirens Sang of Murder, was written in 1989, and after reading it, I mooched about unhappily for a while, assuming that Sarah Caudwell had simply stopped writing mysteries, and eventually resigned myself to my fate. Caudwell died in 2000.
And then. Then! I discovered ten years later that in 2000, the very year of her death, she had published a fourth mystery! The Sibyl in Her Grave, like the others, involves a legal crime (insider dealing and tax fraud) which leads to several deaths, and the puzzle is beautifully put together, convoluted but clean. But the real pleasure is in the writing. Here is an excerpt from a letter from Ragwort to Julia, after he has rescued a man from a dominatrix:
Natasha, I am relieved to say, took my intervention in good part, evidently regarding it as a matter for amusement rather than reproach. Indeed, though she made a good deal of fun of me for my soft-heartedness, she was perhaps quite pleased that I had saved her the possible unpleasantness of releasing Albany herself. He had spoken to her, I gathered, in a manner which she found lacking in respect; she had lost her temper and taken her revenge, without much thought for the consequences. When I enquired cautiously as to the nature of the insult offered her, it turned out that he had addressed her as tu rather than vous, not having, in her opinion, any right to do so. It just shows how careful one has to be — the French can be very touchy about these things.
I read this book with complete delight, marred only by the fact that this now really is the last mystery I will ever read by this author. I cannot urge you strongly enough to track these down, and pour yourself a nice glass of champagne to go with them.