Sarah Caudwell, The Shortest Way To Hades (1984)

A short note of context: I’m sitting in the living room typing this post with some Purcell music in the background, but it’s one of those Wednesdays I would have been perfectly happy slouching in front of the telly with a glass of port in hand (come to think of it, I’ll fetch the drink– now that’s better!). But I recently heard of Clayton Christensen’ theories to measure life and his conclusion that 100% is easier than 98%. I thought it clever, until a bit of a cold and a busy workday all called for a 2% exception. Tough! (but see: I’m still typing)

So, Sarah Caudwell. Let’s say that in 4 words: I am a fan.

When it comes to the famous “suspension of disbelief”, some writers require too much from the reader and we readers end up resenting it and rejecting the book. But for some other writers, we’re happy to throw any critical thinking by the window and forget about it for as many pages as the writer will provide.

Sarah Caudwell is firmly in the second group. Nothing in the plot is quite believable, from the complex family ties that make a beautiful young woman the heiress of a great fortune, to the inexplicable yet deadly accident of her cousin falling from a roof terrace. But the ironic thing is that I’m dead certain that the fine lines of inheritance law and entailed estate she explains are all legally correct!

Her characters are so oddball-funny with their typically British deadpan humor that I’d be happy to read their adventures anywhere, anytime. After Italy and its beautiful Adonis-like young men, this time we get Greek islands and a plot mimicking the mythological family feuds. Can you see how odd it was to read this while in a remote village of Wales last month! I giggled all the way (trying my best to be silent at nap-time), but the moment I couldn’t stop myself was when Selena and Julia get involved in an orgy where due to some drug Selena loses all restraint and… reads Jane Austen in the middle of a naked lunch party while people around her try to interest her into other activities, to no avail.

Alas, as I’m reaching this fourth mystery of hers (the second in order), I’m sadly aware that I’ve read every possible Sarah Caudwell mystery ever. Perhaps I should try my hand at fan-fiction and launch a new series of adventures!

3 thoughts on “Sarah Caudwell, The Shortest Way To Hades (1984)

  1. I read these books years ago and have never forgotten them. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of our local library service who have ditched all their copies just at the point when I felt it was time for a re-read. I can see that I’m going to have to see what can be picked up second hand. You make me even more determined to see what can be done.

  2. Please do try your hand at fan fiction. I would love to have a Sarah Caudwell read-alike to enjoy. You’re so right about how she so easily gets the reader to suspend all disbelief. How does she do that? In fact, how does any author do that? It’s a real talent.

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