I was going to do a rec list for Jools, but it would basically be ‘read ALL the Crispin!’ and so here are some things I particularly love about each book. (Two things that I love in general is that they are funny, and stuffed full of literary allusions.)
One of the joys of Fen is that he is very much himself - he changes not. Nor does Crispin dwell much on his personal life, and so you can read the books in any order. He is also rarely the protagonist; instead we are at the shoulder of a variety of engaging folk who get caught up in murder.
The Case Of The Gilded Fly - Oxford, 1940. Actors. Theatre. Literary allusions aplenty. A disliked victim. And Fen, being glorious.
Holy Disorders - So many vicars. Historical witchcraft. My favourite minor character, Henry Fielding ('Not’ asks everyone 'the author of Tom Jones?’). A scene which knowledge of Poe’s The Raven makes even funnier.
The Moving Toyshop - Oxford, again, and a poet protagonist (Cadogan). Edward Lear. An obsessive Janeite. Fen’s outrageous driving. 'Detestable Characters In Fiction’.
Swan Song - Opera (Strauss!) Oxford. impossible murders. Crime writers. More of Fen’s outrageous driving. Fey and/or drunk undergraduates. Sometimes this is my favourite book.
Love Lies Bleeding - A boys school. A girls school. Shakespeare. Teenage girls (Crispin writes teenage girls particularly well). Curious manuscripts. An enormous dog called Mr Merrythought. Sometimes this is my favourite book.
Buried For Pleasure - Fen stands in a local election. An escaped lunatic. Poisoning. Small village life. A mysterious interloper.
Frequent Hearses - A British Film studio. An actress called Gloria Scott. Theatre. Mysterious identities. A maze. Inspector Humbleby of the Yard. I love this one.
The Long Divorce - Two village doctors. A local police detective (possibly my favourite Crispin character ever). Romance. Mysterious legacies. Fen in disguise. Another brilliant teenage girl. Trains. Yeah, sometimes this is my favourite.
Beware of the Trains & Fen Country - Short stories. Little gems of puzzles. Often involving Humbleby as well.
Also The Glimpses of the Moon (written much later - 1977, the year before he died) which I seem to have mislaid and haven’t read for ages. Fen is in Devon, trying to write a book. It’s not his (Crispin’s) best, but it’s still worth reading.
And lastly, from the back of Love Lies Bleeding:
[Crispin] is thirty-one years old, unmarried, constitutionally torpid; for recreation he does crosswords puzzles, reads and sleeps. Unlike most authors, he has not been a lumber-jack, bar-tender, advertising agent, ship’s cat, lecturer in metallurgy, gigolo, and Member of Parliament. For a time after leaving Oxford he was, however, a schoolmaster; and it is to this period of life that he attributes his knowledge of human nature in general and of criminal human nature in particular.