Curtains, of course

12 September 2014

Fiona Hook reads of a theatrical murder

A Director's Cut (An Abbot Peter Mystery)
Simon Parke
DLT £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20 (Use code CT263 )

THIS is the third outing for Abbot Peter, once head of a desert monastery, now retired to the sleepy seaside town of Stormhaven, and his niece DI Tasmin Shah, "as ambitious as Stalin and much better looking". They are in the theatre, enjoying free tickets to something DI Shah wouldn't have paid for - a grim two-hander involving a mother and daughter at war - when the curtain rises to reveal the theatre's owner with her throat cut. Everyone is a suspect - the controversial young writer, the quiet lady who does the costumes, the fashionable director, and the actors, ageing Margery and pretty Millicent. So is the vagrant living in the churchyard next door, until he, too, dies horribly.

The background theme is family. The writer is at war with his bishop, and psychotherapy reveals that all may not be well with the Shahs. The author likes his literary jokes, and intertwined with the story is that of Meister Eckhart, the medieval philosopher who was of the opinion that family didn't exist.

The hallmarks that distinguished Parke's earlier work - the wit, sharp dialogue, and ability to project himself into the heads of his characters - are still there. His bishop, wallowing in false humility, is both a wonderful comic grotesque and uncomfortably real. I do wish Parke would abandon his habit of writing in very short chapters. Ruth Rendell doesn't need to do it, and, as his plotting grows in complexity and confidence, with a truly Rendellian twist at the end, neither does he.

Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.

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