The Sibyl in Her Grave

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When the late Sarah Caudwell’s book Thus Was Adonis Murdered appeared in 1981, readers noted its similarity to the sparkling mysteries of the Golden Age. Caudwell’s sleuths were witty and erudite, four of them junior barristers, the fifth, an Oxford fellow much like the author, a free-spirited, Oxford-educated barrister named Sarah Cockburn. The Sibyl In Her Grave, a posthumous publication, is the last of four books in which this team appears.

The first-person narrator of this work is Professor Hilary Tamar, whose gender is unclear. On a visit to London, Hilary is asked by a barrister friend, Julia Larwood, to look at a letter from her aunt, Regina Sheldon, bemoaning the tax bill on unusually high profits from investments made by a group in her West Sussex village of Parsons Haver.

Another barrister, Selena Jardine, finds that Regina’s windfall is connected to a possible case of insider trading involving a London bank. From Regina the barristers learn that a psychic in Parsons Haver, Isabella del Comino, has some connection with the bank. Then Isabella is found dead.

While one of the team looks for clues in Cannes, Regina reports on suspicious happenings in Parsons Haver, including two more untimely deaths. In a dramatic climax, Hilary, Selena, and Julia speed to Parsons Haver and discover the truth. The Sibyl in Her Grave is a well-crafted mystery, made more enjoyable because it also has all the ingredients of comedy of manners, witty dialogue, lighthearted satire, and keen insight into human nature.