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Authors: Edmund Crispin

Swan Song

BOOK: Swan Song
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About the Book

About the Author

Also by Edmund Crispin

Title Page

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

More from Vintage Classic Crime


About the Book

When an opera company gathers in Oxford for the first post-war production of Wagner's
Die Meistersinger
its happiness is soon soured by the discovery that the unpleasant Edwin Shorthouse will be singing a leading role. Nearly everyone involved has reason to loathe Shorthouse but who amongst them has the fiendish ingenuity to kill him in his own locked dressing room?

In the course of this entertaining adventure, eccentric Oxford don Gervase Fen has to unravel two murders, cope with the unpredictability of the artistic temperament, and attempt to encourage the course of true love.

About the Author

Edmund Crispin's real name was Bruce Montgomery. He was born in 1921 of Scots-Irish parentage. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' and St John's College, Oxford, where he read Modern Languages. He worked for two years as assistant master at a public school and later established himself as a composer.

In previous editions of his books, Crispin listed his recreations as swimming, excessive smoking, Shakespeare, the operas of Wagner and Strauss, idleness and cats. His antipathies were dogs, the French Film, the Renaissance of the British Film, psychoanalysis, the psychological-realistic crime story, and the contemporary theatre. He wrote nine detective novels and two volumes of short stories and also worked as a crime fiction reviewer for the
Sunday Times
from 1967 until his death in September 1978


The Case of the Gilded Fly

Holy Disorders

The Moving Toyshop

Buried for Pleasure

Love Lies Bleeding

Frequent Hearses

The Long Divorce

The Glimpse of the Moon

Swan Song
Edmund Crispin


My dear Godfrey,

You're not, I fancy, an habitual reader of such murderous tales as this, and in the ordinary way I should be decidedly shy of dedicating one of them to you. But a book with a background of
Die Meistersinger
– well, what else could I do? It was you who first introduced me to that noble work (in the days when the sum of my musical activity consisted in trying to evade piano lessons), and our mutual admiration of it is not the least of the many bonds of friendship between us. Accept the story, then, for the sake of its setting, and as a foretaste of the day when Wagner's masterpiece returns to Covent Garden – without, let us hope, any of the dismal impediments which beset it in the following pages.

Yours as ever,

Devon, 1946


creatures more stupid than the average singer. It would appear that the fractional adjustment of larynx, glottis, and sinuses required in the production of beautiful sounds must almost invariably be accompanied – so perverse are the habits of Providence – by the witlessness of a barnyard fowl. Perhaps, though, the thing is not so much innate as a result of environment and training. This touchiness and irascibility, these scarifying intellectual lapses, are observable in actors as well – and it has long been noted that singers who are concerned with the theatre are more obtuse and trying than any other kind. One would be inclined, indeed, to attribute their deficiencies exclusively to the practice of personal display were it not for the existence of ballet-dancers, who (with a few notable exceptions) are most usually naïve and mild-eyed. Evidently there is no immediate and summary solution of the problem. The fact itself, however, is very generally admitted.

Certainly Elizabeth Harding was aware of it – perhaps only theoretically at first, but with a good deal of practical confirmation as the rehearsals of
Der Rosenkavalier
ran their course. She was therefore relieved to find that Adam Langley was considerably more cultured and intelligent, as well as more svelte and personable, than the majority of operatic tenors. It was her intention to marry him, and plainly the quality of his mind was a factor which had to be taken into account.

Elizabeth was not, of course, in any way a cold or
calculating person. But most women – despite the romantic fictions which obscure the whole marriage problem – are realistic enough, before committing themselves, to examine with some care the merits and demerits of their prospective husbands. Moreover, Elizabeth had gained by her own talents a settled and independent position in life, and this was not, she had decided, to be abandoned improvidently at the behest of mere affection, however strong. She therefore reviewed the situation with characteristic thoroughness and clarity of mind.

And the situation was this, that she had fallen explicably and quite unexpectedly in love with an operatic tenor. In her more apprehensive moments, in fact, infatuation suggested itself to her as a more accurate term than love. The symptoms left her in no possible doubt as to her condition. They showed, even, so strong a resemblance to the tropes and platitudes of the conventional love-story as to be vaguely disconcerting. She thought about Adam before she went to sleep at night; she was still thinking about him when she woke up in the morning; she even – the ultimate degradation – dreamed about him; and she hurried to the opera-house to meet him with an eagerness quite inappropriate to a reserved and sophisticated young woman of twenty-six. In a way it was humiliating; on the other hand, it was decidedly the most delightful and exhilarating form of humiliation she had ever experienced – and that in spite of a sufficiency of practice in love and rather too much theoretical reading on the subject.

How it came about she was never able clearly to remember, but it seems to have happened quite suddenly, without gestation or warning. One day Adam Langley was an agreeable but undifferentiated member of an operatic company; the next he shone alone in planetary splendour, amid satellites grown spectral and unreal. Elizabeth felt, in the face of this phenomenon, something of the awe of a coenobite visited by an archangel, and was
startled at the hurried refocusing of familiar objects which such an experience involves. ‘
Failings from us, vanishings
. . .' She would certainly have resented this gratuitous upsetting of her normal outlook had it not been for the unprecedented sense of peace and happiness which it brought with it. ‘Darling Adam,' she murmured that night to a hot and unresponsive pillow, ‘darling ugly Adam' – a form of endearment which its object would probably have greatly resented had he known of it. There was more to the same effect, but such ecstasies make a poor showing by the time the printer has finished with them, and the reader will either have to take them for granted or imagine them for himself.

The epithet was as a matter of fact slanderous. Adam Langley was entirely presentable, being thirty-five years of age, with kindly, regular, undistinguished features, thoughtful brown eyes, and a habit of courtesy which served admirably as a defence to his natural shyness. His chief defect lay in a certain vagueness which amounted sometimes to the appearance of aimlessness. He was trustful, modest, easily startled, and innocent of all but the most venial misdemeanours, and though at one time and another he had been moved to a gentle and – if the truth is to be told – rather clumsy amorousness, women had played no very important part in his peaceful and successful life. It was perhaps for this reason that he remained for so long totally unaware of Elizabeth's feelings for him. He regarded her, at all events in the first instance, simply as a writer who had gained admittance to the rehearsals of
Der Rosenkavalier
in order to study the operatic background required for an episode in a new novel.

!' Karl Wolzogen hissed at him during a break in one of the piano rehearsals. ‘If she could only sing – ah, my friend, what an Oktavian!' And more out of courtesy than because he was impressed by Karl's enthusiasm – which tended, in truth, to be indiscriminate – Adam studied Elizabeth properly for the first time. She
was small, he saw, exquisitely slender, with soft brown hair, blue eyes, a slightly snub nose, and eyebrows which were crooked and hence a trifle sardonic. Her voice – she was speaking at this moment to Joan Davis – was low, vivid, and quiet, with a not unattractive huskiness. Her lipstick had been applied with a rare competence, and of this Adam greatly approved, since it seemed to him that the majority of women must perform this operation in front of a distorting mirror or during an attack of St Vitus's Dance. She was dressed soberly and expensively, though with a little too much masculinity for Adam's taste. And as to character? Here Adam became a little bogged. He liked, however, her disciplined vivacity and her poise – the more so as there was no hint of arrogance about it.

Subsequently he was in the habit of attributing their marriage to the independent purposes of Herren Strauss and Hofmannsthal. The chief singing parts in
Der Rosenkavalier
are for three sopranos and a bass. Adam, being a tenor, had been fobbed off with the small and uninteresting role of Valzacchi, and this left him, at rehearsals, more often unoccupied than not. It was inevitable that he and Elizabeth should drift together – and so far, so good. But here an obstacle presented itself, in that it never for one instant occurred to Adam that Elizabeth might wish their relationship to rise above the level of disinterested affability on which it had begun. On this plane he obstinately remained, blind to winsomeness and affection, deaf to hints and innuendoes, in a paradisaically innocent condition of sexlessness which exasperated Elizabeth all the more since it was obviously natural and unconscious. For a time she was baffled. An open declaration of her feelings, she saw, was far more likely to put him on guard than to encourage him – and moreover her own characteristic reserve would invest such a declaration with a perceptible air of incongruity and falsity. It says much for the semi-hypnosis in which her mind was fogged that the obvious solution came to
her only after a considerable time: plainly some third person must be found to mediate between them.

BOOK: Swan Song
3.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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