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A Unicorn Dies: A novel of mystery and ideas, by Paul S. Fiddes

27 July 2018

Anthony Phillips reads a detective-fiction debut

ANOTHER Oxford murder mystery! Yes, but as might be expected from a Professor of Systematic Theology, more Tolkein than Christie, and definitely not Morse.

Benedict Green, a postgraduate student working on the unicorn, an animal associated with sex and death, is found dead, floating in the bath of the College Chaplain, his supervisor, with his wrists cut. The police assume suicide.

Not so the undergraduate Giles Questing, lodging with Green’s fiancée, Hannah, whose essay subject at his recent tutorial was the medieval Bestiary. Searching Benedict’s flat, Giles and Hannah find six numbered postcards sent over a nine- month period and all depicting medieval or Renaissance art works featuring a unicorn. Only the sixth is inscribed: “Think you are an archangel? You bastard”.

Rusticated for a year for having pornographic material on his computer, the result of searching for information on unicorns, Questing sets out to inspect all six artefacts pictured on the cards, convinced that they will reveal the identity of the murderer.

His journeys take him to York, Paris, Rome, New York, Colmar in Alsace, and Stirling, Scotland. A series of accidents convinces him that someone is trying to stop him cracking the code behind the cards.

After Questing’s visit to New York, a second death occurs. At Oxford station, the President of the Unicorn Society falls under a train. But no one sees how this happened.

Questing’s experiments within Alternative World result in frightening consequences. Frequently he experiences fainting fits, but he learns to thwart them. Two nightmares haunt him: falling into an immense pool of water, and being chased along an endless corridor. He remains uncertain whether the murderer is male or female. Increasingly attracted to Hannah, he begins to doubt that Green was in fact murdered.

With the discovery of the seventh tapestry, everything falls into place, but not without risk to Questing’s own life.

Medievalists, art historians, and travellers will find much to enjoy in this imaginative first novel by Paul Fiddes, with its strong Christian undertones, set in a thoroughly modern Oxford, city of cranes, not spires.

Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury.

A Unicorn Dies: A novel of mystery and ideas
Paul S. Fiddes
Firedint Publishing Oxford £8.99

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