THE aristocratic amateur sleuth Gawaine St Clair finds it impossible to be rude to women. So, when his self-appointed honorary aunt, the overbearing Christabel, bullies him into investigating the murder of her parish priest, found bludgeoned to death on the North Downs, he has no choice.
Although Father Thomas, as he liked to be called, was a man of great integrity, recently returned for health reasons from working in Africa, there is no shortage of suspects: the woman to whom he refused communion because she was divorced; the prep-school headmaster whose livelihood he threatened; and the churchwarden who might have his hand in the cash box — not to mention the brother and sister who now have his shares in the family company. Everyone, it seems, has something to hide. And would those who dislike his incense, and meditation sessions, stoop to murder to stop the Bishop confirming him in the parish?
Jane Austen said that five or six families in a small village were the perfect material; and so it is here. Cherith Baldry has an unerring feeling for human types. Many churches have someone like Mrs Prestwick, who does the flowers and knows everything that’s going on. The writer shows with wry wit the unpleasantness and jockeying for position which can lurk beneath the surface of an apparently idyllic small community, ruthless in its punishment of anyone who steps out of line. Her central character and the setting owe an obvious debt to Dorothy Sayers, even to the clavichord-playing, though Baldry is never overly derivative, and the motive for murder is thoroughly 21st-century.
This is the second outing for St Clair and his foils: the lively advertising executive David and the local journalist Sef. Their interactions are not the least amusing feature of this highly entertaining whodunnit. Baldry knows her Church of England, and she tells a cracking story.
Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.
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