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Book review: A Death in the Parish by Richard Coles

14 July 2023

Caroline Chartres on a clerical sleuth’s return

CANON Daniel Clement, Richard Coles’s clerical detective, is back (Books, 24 June 2022), and life is anything but peaceful. Champton, his rural East Midlands parish, is starting to resemble Midsomer, with a second murderer on the loose.

As if that wasn’t enough, the parish has been joined with Upper and Lower Badsaddle; so our hero finds himself uncomfortably in harness with an Evangelical colleague who “would insist on [Bible stories] being true in a way that Daniel did not, could not — and anyway he thought we owed the Bible more than the literal truth that those who thought themselves its defenders allowed”.

The Associate Vicar is not the only new arrival. The cast of familiar characters is augmented by others, filling the gaps left by those unfortunate enough to have been killed off in the first book of the series.

The 1980s setting — Mrs Thatcher is Prime Minister, the M25 has just been opened, Howard’s Way is the favoured Sunday-night television viewing — reminds us of how much less complicated life was in the era before social media and universal My-Truth-Trumps-Your-Truth syndrome. But the seeds have already been sown: “There is a peculiar forgetfulness of our age, thought Daniel, so enchanted with novelty and the extraordinary success of science and technology, that the longer story of the evolution of the values and institutions and virtues that have long shaped our lives gets lost.”

This is no cosy retrospective, however: racism, abuse, and beatings all rear their ugly heads, with an acknowledgement that “Human sin and greed and violence can dress itself in gospel robes and proclaim righteousness for the most depraved of deeds.” But, like all the best stories, this one is character-driven, and the characters are observed with an unflinching but mellow and humorous eye.

The story rollicks along, so that I was carried over the one point in the plot which I found unconvincing — not because of that which was done, but, rather, because of that which was left undone. I was left looking forward to the next appearance of a wise and compassionate priest.


Caroline Chartres is a contributing editor for the Church Times.

A Death in the Parish
Richard Coles
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £18.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.99

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