Cover image for The Sibyl in her grave
Title:
The Sibyl in her grave
Author:
Caudwell, Sarah.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
296 pages : map ; 25 cm
Language:
English
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 8.0 16.0 43595.
ISBN:
9780385299343
Format :
Book

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Central Library FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Grand Island Library FICTION Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
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Summary

Summary

Hailed by critics as a master of "the most elegant and literate comedy of manners in the mystery field today," Sarah Caudwell returns to London with her redoubtable team of young barristers--Cantrip, Selena, Ragwort, and Julia--in a mystery that crackles with her uniquely bewitching blend of wit and malice.  The Sibyl in Her Grave. Julia Larwood's aunt Regina needs help.  It seems that she and two friends pooled their modest resources and, on the advice of another friend, invested in equities.  A short-term investment in small companies.  Big risk.  Big return.  Now the tax man demands his due.  Aunt Regina is flummoxed.  They've already spent the money. How can they dig themselves out of the tax hole?  But the real question is how on earth did three amateurs make a thousand-percent profit in record time, triggering a capital gains tax twice the amount of their original investment?  Even more to the point:  Can the sin of capital gains trigger corporeal loss? That's one for the sibyl, psychic counselor Isabella del Comino, who has offended Aunt Regina and her friends by moving into the local rectory, plowing under a cherished garden, and establishing an aviary of ravens.  When Isabella is found dead, all clues seem to lead to death by fiscal misadventure.  Was the sibyl compromising someone's bottom line?  Or was it one for the birds? Julia calls in old friend and Oxford fellow, Professor Hilary Tamar, to follow a money trail that connects Aunt Regina and her friends to what appears to be capital fraud--and capital crime.  The two women couldn't have a better champion than the erudite Hilary, as once again Sarah Caudwell sweeps us into the scene of the crime, leaving us to ponder the greatest mystery of all.  Hilary, him--or her--self.


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

It is with a keen sense of loss that we pick up this last of four mysteries in the late Caudwell's canon. Caudwell disarms with lapidary prose, an intricate sense of plot, and a perfectly delicious cast of characters. The autumnal Ragwort and the Beardsleyesque Cantrip, the feline Selena, and tax expert (and perfect muddle at everything else) Julia, junior members of Chambers at New Square London, are in the midst of an insider-trading scandal lapping at the heels of one of Selena's clients. The narrator of events is the acerbic and deadpan Professor Hilary Tamar, Oxford fellow and self-styled guardian spirit to the young solicitors. Paralleling Selena's client's difficulties are the more homely troubles of Julia's Aunt Regina, in West Sussex, who finds a psychic and her extremely irritating ward setting up house in the recently sold rectory. The psychic dies suddenly, and other deaths follow. The interconnections between these stories are spun out in a series of letters from Aunt Regina to Julia, Julia to Ragwort, and eventually involving the rest of the cast. A trip to Cannes, a tender May-December gay liaison, the travails of office remodeling, a whiff of both transvestism and S&M, and a horrific incidence of passive-aggressive behavior are only a few of the bewitcheries Caudwell prepares, all the while keeping any hint of Professor Tamar's gender at bay. The faintest scent of both eroticism and scholarship attends Caudwell's work: pour yourself a glass of Nierstein and have a go. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido


Publisher's Weekly Review

Published posthumously, Caudwell's final Hilary Tamar mystery finds the androgynous Oxford professor and his (or her) coterie of junior barristers untangling a complicated case of insider trading and murder. While barrister Julia Larwood is mulling over a panicky letter from her aunt, Regina Sheldon, about taxes owed on certain recent investments, her colleague, Selena Jardine, is coincidentally advising Sir Robert Renfrews, chairman of Renfrews' Bank, on the mysterious leaking of top-secret business gossip that has somehow reached Aunt Regina and her two investment cronies. The conduit of information proves to be Aunt Regina's new neighbor, Isabella del Comino, a self-styled "psychic counselor," who may be blackmailing one of two rising directors at the bank. Isabella's sudden death and the emergence of her pathetic but creepy niece, Daphne, raise concerns: did one of the bank directors murder Isabella, and will Daphne, or possibly even Aunt Regina, be next? Mining Barbara Pym country for tipsy vicars and high-strung spinsters, Caudwell has produced a droll, rather retro whodunit, updated only by the barest hint of same-sex dalliance. In addition, the young barristers have time to deconstruct wordy epistles from a suburban aunt and to natter on in stiff-upper-lip British diction about bookshelves and vacations as if they were back in the junior common room. It's all highly artificial, but Caudwell's crafty plotting and knowing wit will keep readers happily diverted. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Enigmatic sleuth Hilary Tamar is back for the first time since 1989 in this fourth and final mystery by British author Caudwell (The Shortest Way to Hades), who died of cancer last January at the age of 60. In London to visit a circle of young lawyer friends, Hilary, an Oxford law professor of unspecified gender, grows entangled in a case involving friend Julia Larwood's aunt, Regina Sheldon. Regina had received stock tips that, while lucrative, appear to have been obtained through insider trading. When Regina's neighbor, fortuneteller Isabella del Comino, is found dead in her home, Hilary and friends set out to discover the connection between her death and the stock scheme. Witty characters, a carefully constructed plot, polished prose, and knowing glimpses into the worlds of British law and academic life make this a delightful read. Recommended for all mystery collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/00].DJane la Plante, Minot State Univ. Lib., ND (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal Review

Published posthumously, Caudwell's final Hilary Tamar mystery finds the androgynous Oxford professor and his (or her) coterie of junior barristers untangling a complicated case of insider trading and murder. While barrister Julia Larwood is mulling over a panicky letter from her aunt, Regina Sheldon, about taxes owed on certain recent investments, her colleague, Selena Jardine, is coincidentally advising Sir Robert Renfrews, chairman of Renfrews' Bank, on the mysterious leaking of top-secret business gossip that has somehow reached Aunt Regina and her two investment cronies. The conduit of information proves to be Aunt Regina's new neighbor, Isabella del Comino, a self-styled "psychic counselor," who may be blackmailing one of two rising directors at the bank. Isabella's sudden death and the emergence of her pathetic but creepy niece, Daphne, raise concerns: did one of the bank directors murder Isabella, and will Daphne, or possibly even Aunt Regina, be next? Mining Barbara Pym country for tipsy vicars and high-strung spinsters, Caudwell has produced a droll, rather retro whodunit, updated only by the barest hint of same-sex dalliance. In addition, the young barristers have time to deconstruct wordy epistles from a suburban aunt and to natter on in stiff-upper-lip British diction about bookshelves and vacations as if they were back in the junior common room. It's all highly artificial, but Caudwell's crafty plotting and knowing wit will keep readers happily diverted. (July) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

The two men struggling on the floor of the Clerks' Room differed widely in appearance: one young, of slender build, dressed in cotton and denim, with honey-coloured hair worn rather long and a pleasing delicacy of feature; the other perhaps in his sixties, tending to plumpness, wearing a pinstriped suit, with the round, pink face of a bad-tempered baby and very little hair at all. They rolled this way and that, as it seemed inextricably entwined, uttering indistinguishable cries and groans, whether of pain or pleasure I could not easily determine. A ladder was also involved in the proceedings. I concluded after a few moments that their entanglement was neither hostile nor amorous, but of an involuntary nature on both sides, the result, very possibly, of an accidental collision between the older man and the ladder at a moment when the younger was standing, perhaps imperfectly balanced, on one of its upper rungs. "Sir Robert--Sir Robert, are you all right?" Selena's voice, as she ran forward to assist the older man to his feet, conveyed a tactful mixture of deference, apology and concern--it seemed likely that he was one of her clients. If so, this was not the moment to lay claim to her attention: I withdrew, thinking that a pleasant half hour or so could be spent in visiting Julia Larwood in the Revenue chambers next door. At 63 New Square I found Julia sitting at her desk, surrounded by papers, tax encyclopedias, half-empty coffee cups, and overflowing ashtrays, more than ever resembling in appearance some particularly dishevelled heroine of Greek tragedy. I concluded that she was working on a matter of some importance. "Yes," said Julia, waving hospitably towards an armchair. "Yes, I am. I'm writing a letter to my aunt Regina. She is in urgent need of my advice." She spoke a trifle defensively, no doubt aware that I would find the claim improbable. Julia's aunt Regina, having spent several periods of her life in more distant parts of the world, had now chosen, as I recalled, to settle in Parsons Haver in West Sussex--a charming village on the banks of the Arun or the Adur, I forget which, of the kind that Londoners are usually thinking of when they dream of the pleasures of rusticity. Having at one time in the Middle Ages flourished as a seaport, it has long since been deprived by the changing coastline of any commercial importance; but its cobbled streets, its knapped flint cottages and its fine Norman church continue to attract the discerning tourist and those in quest of an idyllic retirement. Regina Sheldon herself, whom I had once or twice had the pleasure of meeting, had also struck me as having something about her appearance which savoured of the mediaeval. As a girl, I suppose, she would rather have put one in mind of a good-looking pageboy at the court of one of the Plantagenets; now, though her figure was no longer boyish and the dark auburn of her hair must have owed less to nature than to her hairdresser, one could still imagine her as the same pageboy, grown up to be an ambassador or a rather worldly cardinal. Having married four husbands and brought up two sons, she professed to have retired from matrimony: the chief outlet for her talents and formidable energies was a small antique shop, adjoining the discreetly modernised cottage in which she lived. There were few areas in which I could imagine her requiring the benefit of Julia's wisdom and experience. "She has a tax problem," said Julia. "If you'd like to read about it, while I finish writing this--" She offered for my perusal a letter running to several pages, written in distinctively elegant but perfectly legible manuscript. 24 High Street Parsons Haver West Sussex Monday, 14th June Dear Julia, Now do please read this properly as soon as you open it, instead of putting it somewhere safe and forgetting about it. There's something I need your advice on--I think it's the kind of thing you're supposed to know about--and it's much too complicated to explain by telephone. It all started in February last year, when Maurice and Griselda and I were sitting in the Newt and Ninepence. And don't be tiresome, Julia, you know perfectly well who Maurice and Griselda are, or if you don't it's quite disgraceful of you. Maurice Dulcimer is the vicar at St. Ethel's. Well, in a manner of speaking--the Church Commissioners decided that St. Ethel's was too small to have a full-time vicar to itself, so he's been rationalised into an assistant curate--but they let him go on living at the Vicarage and everyone still calls him "Vicar." I always invite him to dinner when you're down here and you usually seem to amuse each other. And you certainly ought to remember Griselda--Griselda Carstairs, my neighbour, who does people's gardens and has cats. The first time you met her she was weeding my rose bed and you spent ten minutes flirting with her before you realised she was a woman, not a young man. And I do think, Julia, though of course I wouldn't like you to be the sort of girl who's obsessed with sex, that you ought to be able by now to tell the difference. Just because Griselda has short hair and was wearing trousers-- Well, as I say, there we were in the Newt, as we usually are on a Saturday morning, helping each other to finish our crosswords and talking of this and that. And it turned out that we were all a little bit richer than usual, to the tune of four or five hundred pounds each. Maurice had written an article on Virgil for one of the up-market papers, and been quite well paid for it. Griselda had been left a small legacy by someone whose garden she used to look after. And a charming American tourist had walked into my antique shop and bought some things I'd quite despaired of selling. So we had an extra round of drinks to celebrate and talked about how to spend the money. By and by, though, we began to realise that it wasn't actually quite enough. Not enough, I mean, to do anything exciting with. When Maurice and I were your age, five hundred pounds was a very large sum of money--it could almost have changed one's life. And even when Griselda was your age, which isn't nearly so long ago, it would still have been pretty substantial. But nowadays--and yet it seemed a shame just to put it in the bank, and let it trickle away in everyday expenses. "It would be awfully nice," said Griselda, "if it were about twice as much." Which summed up our feelings in a nutshell. Maurice thought we might put it on deposit, and leave the interest to accumulate for a while. We were working out how long it would take for us to double our money in that way, and getting a bit depressed about the answer, when Ricky Farnham came in. Excerpted from The Sibyl in Her Grave by Sarah L. Caudwell All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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