A KIND of psycho-political thriller with a turbulent theological undertow is George Pitcher’s A Dark Nativity (Unbound, £18.99 (£17.10); 978-1-78352-434-10). The novel’s central character Natalie Cross is a minor canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, who becomes entangled in a dangerous web of international intelligence, politics, and church intrigue.
She’s not a priest out of central casting. Before ordination, she had attracted notoriety as a maverick aid worker through her instinct to do what she thought right rather than toe the party line. And her religious vocation is informed more by a ferocious desire for justice than by human kindness. In fact, her rage, her volatility, and her tendency to go for the jugular make her someone you wouldn’t want to bump into in a dark sacristy.
Natalie imagines that she is being groomed to become an early woman bishop, only to find herself pitched into a perilous situation in the Middle East, where she is no longer in charge of her own destiny. Here she has to take desperate measures simply to survive.
Pitcher (himself an Anglican priest) is a good storyteller. The narrative has a fierce drive that propels you breathlessly from page to page — occasionally diverted by inserted back-story fragments that build Natalie Cross’s character. Also, I had the feeling that the author wanted to throw everything he knew into the pot: it positively seethes with ideas and digressions (including swashbuckling swipes at the Church’s less attractive attributes). It could afford to be a tad leaner, more direct.
None the less, Natalie Cross’s post-modern, profane version of muscular Christianity makes for an invigorating pilgrimage to the dark side. There is a nativity here, but it’s hard won, and — as the novel’s title suggests — don’t expect fairy lights.
The Revd Malcolm Doney is a writer, broadcaster, and Anglican priest.