Sarah Caudwell, Sirens Sang of Murder (1989)

In France, September means back to school and tax paying season. Depressing? Not according to my latest reading. Never has tax law been so entertaining! (I can’t believe I’m writing this sentence)

Full disclosure: in a previous life, I studied law: French mostly, and French public law in particular. I wasn’t fond of it to say the least. Or, to be bluntly honest, public finances and tax law were a few of my most dreaded nightmares. I took also an optional in English law, which I found comparatively less daunting, because it was so exotic. But that was way before I heard of Sarah Caudwell and her madcap team of barristers (or is it solicitors? I passed English law, but my grade was not… hum… brilliant).

Can you imagine associating the words “witty” and “fun” to tax evasion, trust funds and provisions made under special inheritance regulations? Before reading Caudwell, I couldn’t. Now, I’m so enthusiastic that perhaps I should have persisted into my old line of study! (I’m just kidding – I’m not taking law school again for all the money in the world).

“Sirens Sang of Murder” is the most witty and fun mystery I have read for ages, even if it talks about tax havens (Guernsey, Monaco…) and if the writing is as convoluted as an old legalese parchment. The story is told by Hilary Tamar, an Oxford academic whose gender is deliberately kept hidden from the reader and who is obviously full of… oneself. Part of the fun comes in trying to guess Hilary’s gender, but there’s more. Once I got used to Hilary’s pompous language, I found the adventures of the young barristers totally hilarious in a very British sort of way (even when Caudwell likes to practice French-bashing). An example:

The chagrin of a woman displaced in her lover’s affections is as nothing compared with that of a barrister superseded in the favour of a leading firm of solicitors.

Another one:

“I suppose,” said Ragwort, “that he is simply one of those all too numerous people who have no idea of the difference between right and wrong.”
“I suspect,” said Julia, “that he thinks things are wrong only if one enjoys them, and is able on that basis to regard himself as a man of the highest moral character.”

I got a few stares in the commuting train for laughing out loud. I won’t get into the particulars of the plot, but I warmly recommend the book altogether. And all the other Caudwell titles are immediately added to my wishlist.


9 thoughts on “Sarah Caudwell, Sirens Sang of Murder (1989)

  1. I have been looking for a good mystery to read during the RIP challenge. I’m just finishing up Death of a Witch by M.C. Beaton (which I like but which, I am sorry to say, I can’t “warmly” recommend…perhaps lukewarmly) and this one sounds to be just the ticket.

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