RogerBW's Blog

Matricide at St Martha's, Ruth Dudley Edwards 16 January 2019

1994 mystery, fifth in the Robert Amiss series. Amiss is recruited by his old friend "Jack" Troutbeck, Bursar of St Martha's College in Cambridge, to help her sort out the politics of how a bequest will be used. Of course, some people have strong and murderous feelings about that.

But first we have to endure a lot of tedious claptrap about "political correctness", all the stories that were made up to sell right-wing newspapers and then discredited; anyone arguing for more study of female writers in this book is a third-rate scholar or simply out for a power grab, because there's no legitimate reason why anyone would be interested in Aphra Behn, all black lesbians are regarded as great irrespective of their actual virtues, and anyone arguing for less hurtful language is just a fascist who wants to control people. I held my nose and ploughed on.

The factions are the Virgins (trying to do some actual scholarship), the Dykes (right-on lefties), and the Old Women (the few male Fellows, who simply want to increase their own comfort). They're all fairly straightforward, and unlike the previous couple of books there's little effort this time to make them more complex and real behind the stereotypes (with one exception, one of the Dykes who turns out to be an actual person really).

Apart from all the warm fuzzies for readers of the Daily Telegraph, it works pretty well; a particularly incompetent policeman returns from earlier books, there's lots of interviewing of suspects, and the Bursar herself (while obviously a wish-fulfilment figure in some respects) does at least have a sense of getting some enjoyment out of life which is largely missing from Amiss, the nominal lead.

'No thanks to you I'm not dead; you nearly broke my neck.'

'All you youngsters nowadays seem to want to be treated like Dresden,' she said contemptuously.

'Well, you are certainly putting up a pretty good imitation of Bomber Command.'

As before in this series, one can speculate with some direction, but there is no possibility of a definitive identification of the murderer before the revelation.

There's obvious homage to Gaudy Night here, but one gets the feeling that Dudley Edwards hasn't quite grasped the joy to be found in scholarship, though she's aware that it can be valued highly. Still, Jack makes this a great improvement on the previous book. Series recommended by Gus; followed by Ten Lords A-Leaping.

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Previous in series: Clubbed to Death | Series: Robert Amiss | Next in series: Ten Lords A-Leaping

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