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An education in clue-placing

19 August 2016

Nicolas Goulding on an ingenious mystery

A (Very) Public School Murder (An Abbot Peter Mystery)
Simon Parke
Marylebone House £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10



THIS is the fourth in a series of crime novels by Simon Parke which relates the exploits of an unlikely but oddly attractive sleuthing double act. To a long list of much-loved detective pairings, which includes Holmes and Watson, Poirot and Hastings, and Morse and Lewis, we must now add Abbot Peter and Tamsin Shah.

It appears that uncle and niece have a special chemistry for crime-solving, despite a tense and rather fractious relationship. They are poles apart both in temperament and philosophy of life. Abbot Peter, a gentle, placid and contemplative monk, has returned to live on the Sussex coast after 30 years of monastic seclusion in the Egyptian desert. Shah is an attractive, quick-witted, and ruthlessly ambitious detective inspector, whose battle is not simply against unsolved crime, but also against the gender bias that she experiences within her local constabulary.

When the headmaster of a small but apparently successful public school is found dead at the bottom of the Seven Sisters cliffs, suicide is immediately suspected. DI Shah is put on the case, and she immediately recruits her uncle to assist with her investigation. Sussex police have conveniently trialled a “trusted citizen” scheme, which gives the pretext for his involvement.

Parke has designed a wonderfully evocative and classically structured whodunnit with a closed system of suspects (including a ghost), all of whom have a close link with the school, and most of whom have an apparent motive to accelerate his demise.

The characters that Parke pens are convincing, and the dialogue is rich and entertaining. As the narrative unfolds, Parke stirs in extra clues and confounders to keep his readers on their toes. The tale builds to a dramatic finale with a piquant twist. I found myself having to start over again to find all those clues that I had missed, but which Abbot Peter had so cleverly pieced together.


The Revd Professor Nicolas Goulding is Professor of Pharmacology and Medical Education at Barts and the London, Queen Mary University of London.

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