STEVE GODDARD’s characters spring fully formed from the page, like Athena from the head of Zeus. We know from almost the moment we hear the Anglican chaplain William Shearwater’s distinctive, slightly cynical, and self-mocking voice that he is a football fanatic, a minor commentator on the sport, and loves technology and his wife. It becomes clearer as the book moves on that “Shears’s” job involves not only diocesan PR, but also a little discreet leaning on, and manipulation of, misbehaving clergy. He believes that the end justifies the means.
As Sophie Daggert starts to speak, in the well-modulated, patient tones of a successful and well-liked English teacher in a sixth-form college, we hear that she is adopted, has a small grandson, and recently lost her beloved husband to cancer. Her student, Lisa, curious about her own parentage, spurs Sophie into investigating her past. On the way, her path and Shears’s intersect in a way that no one could possibly have expected.
This is a book to savour on many levels. The plot is completely unpredictable, with a comeuppance for the villain and a happy ending. It’s a colourful depiction of a vanished world. They say that, if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t there. Shears looks back to a land of lost content, the safe, suburban ’60s of Bobby Moore, grey slacks, and teaching yourself the guitar, before he met Lucy and his life divided in two. We enter the mindsets of someone who doesn’t know who they are, and someone who knows only too well and lives in fear of discovery.
The Canon has some gorgeous one-liners. Apparently, it’s also a literary joke, imagining the lives of characters from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album. But you don’t need to know this to appreciate a truly brilliant debut.
Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.
Whatever Happened to Billy Shears? Fifty years on, disclosure means disaster
Marylebone House £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10