Shake Hands or Die by Michael Northey

07 July 2017

Fiona Hook enjoys a tale of crime and cloth

IN THE quiet cathedral city of Hil­ford, Father John has increased the congregation by 69.3 per cent (he’s counting) by putting on ser­vices that are delightfully unpredict­able or, as his detractors would say, gim­micky and centred on the priest and not the message. His congrega­tion love him, but can’t understand why he will not shake their hands.

Fred Vestal is a young award-winning journalist, down on second­ment from a tabloid in Lon­don to wake up the local paper.

When he deliberately sensation­alises an innocent church play about St George as a danger to children, and is found dead, the priest is an obvious suspect, not least because he has disappeared. Ruth Rendell is always the touchstone for any mur­der story set in a sleepy country town, and this is good enough to be one of hers.

Northey shares her gift for char­acterisation, with two particularly good strong women in Archdeacon Babs and the Chief Superintendent Barbara, the faces of the 21st-century Church and police. His flawed priest and ostensibly beefy, ex-rugby-playing bishop, with his Machiavel­lian cunning, are beautifully drawn, and there’s a highly entertaining set piece when the bishop courteously stonewalls the two police officers questioning him to the point where one of them contemplates an actual murder. The author also poses some im­­portant questions about where press freedom should finish, and how far the Church should go in attracting worshippers.

The plot is beautifully developed. Just when you think the murderer is obvious, and all that is necessary is to work out how it happened, the writer shakes out another fold in his complex tapestry and your expecta­tions are confounded again. There are surprises right up to the last few pages. In the end, the death does hinge on a handshake. And that’s all I’m saying.


Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.


Shake Hands or Die

Michael Northey

Matador £8.99 (978-1-78589-837-2)

Church Times Bookshop £8.10

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