Espionage a la Cambridge-Murder-Mystery
Tony Cape’s A Cambridge Theorem, first issued in 1980, has been picked up and reissued this year by the Felony and Mayhem Mystery Press. Prices are high in this reprint market, but so far I’ve every reason to believe that the editors are savvy.
Cape’s mystery starts with the apparent suicide of a Cambridge fellow, Simon Bowles. Bowles earned his way into the college with his mathematics brilliance, yet he was known to friends to have pursued seemingly insoluble mysteries on the side.
>Having once been interned for a suicide attempt, the victim’s death--an upper vertebrae fracture consistent with hanging--would seem to be an open and shut case.
One Cambridge cop has his doubts.
A policeman who has never quite fit into the local police culture, in part because of his fascination with America, Sergeant Smailes takes an interest in Bowles’s suicide primarily because the latter’s earlier research into Kennedy’s assassination seems so authoritative and believable.
Once this threshold of conspiratorial believability has sunk in, Smailes gradually becomes willing to suspect that Bowles’s more recent research into the theorized fifth member of the Cambridge spy group might indeed reveal a long-term mole.
I'm putting the rest beneath the fold because I don't really think I've managed to describe the point of this novel. I don't give away the ending or any significent secrets maybe that's the problem, but I doubt it.
What intrigues me about this novel, in its success and lack thereof, is that it manages to straddle quite perfectly the country-house-murder genre and the espionage genre.
The novel begins with the characterization of a lower-level, local cop and never quite abandons that point of view, despite the national implications of what this lower-level cop discovers. Of course, anyone who has an interest, even a passing one, in the Cambridge spy ring should check this novel out: it’s very smart and very careful with the historical record as it presents the clues towards the author’s pet conclusions.
Even even you don’t already have an interest in the Cambrige spy rings, Sergeant Smailes’s sense and humanity might suggest enough humanity to interest you in his hobbies.
As the novel gets going, Smailes begins to realise that his passively chosen career demands some further committment: he must face the memory of his father, a powerful policeman, and he must negotiate these memories and his (more hackneyed) outsider status with his superiors.
And when the novel verges into noir, Smailes still seems credible, although his future, after the novel, becomes unimaginable. Recommended, with qualifications (price, special interest).