Margaret Phillips, the Principal of the college, has a chance for happiness but before she can grasp it she has to deal with her own ghosts – as well as corrosive, intrusive gossip. Both women learn something about themselves, and about forgiveness, from the wise John Kingsley.
Meanwhile, in London, police officers Neville Stewart and Mark Lombardi are involved with the latest fatal stabbing of a teenager. Was gifted, popular Sebastian Frost all he seemed to be, or was there something in his life that led inevitably to his death? They’re plunged into the queasy world of cyber-bullying, where nothing may be as it seems.
While they’re apart, Callie and Mark’s relationship is on hold, and his Italian family continues to be an issue. Will Marco realise, before it’s too late, that while his family will always be important to him, he is entitled to something for himself?
If you enjoy James Runcie's Grantchester series, you will love Kate Charles' compelling, updated, clerical mystery. An addictive read from one of my very favorite writers.’
Thoroughly entertaining, even to those of no religious bent.
A bloodstained version of the world of Barbara Pym.
I have a particular soft spot for cosy mysteries set in cathedral closes and small country parishes—I recently re-read with great satisfaction some books from the Golden Age such as Dorothy Sayers’ “The Nine Tailors” and Ngaio Marsh’s earlier works. It was therefore with pleasure that I opened the most recent batch of review books and found a new Callie Anson novel.
Callie is a newly-ordained Church of England priest, working hard to learn the ropes in a parish where the Rector loads her with a lot of the donkey work, where his wife suspects her of being an occasion of sin for her husband, and where gossiping tongues are ever ready to slice up the unwary. Callie isn’t unhappy—she has a cosy little flat over the church hall, a faithful dog, and a new boyfriend who has just given her a spectacular ring and an offer of marriage. However, she does have some baggage from her past that makes her life a little less than it could be. Former fiancé Adam dumped her unceremoniously and while she’s sure she’s over him, she can’t forgive his behaviour.
Her best friend Tamsin is one of those forces of nature who carry you along on their enthusiasms and against her better judgment, Callie agrees to come along to their alma mater for a week-long study and renewal course, once she is assured that Adam won’t be there. Of course when it’s too late to back out, she learns Adam is a last-minute arrival. Like it or not she will have to see and perhaps interact with him.
While Callie is away on the course her fiancé Mark Lombardi is dealing with his difficult job as police liaison officer in London. He is trying to console and assist a pair of middle-aged doctors whose teenage son has been found murdered in the local park. Despite the surgeon-mother’s determined insistence that the boy was nearly a saint, Mark and his fellow officers learn that Sebastian was hiding a lot in his closet. As well as his demanding job, Mark is trying to cope as a stand-in father for his niece whose father has recently died. His old-style Italian family of women will suffocate him one of these days, but he doesn’t seem able to deal with it.
While Mark and the other police officers assigned to the murder case try to sort truth from fiction, Callie becomes involved in a similar task at Archbishop Temple House, where some very decent people are likely to be ruined by thoughtless slander. Without being “preachy”, this book works as a solid reminder of the dangers of passing on gossip, and mindless sharing of quasi-news and questionable facts. On the edge of disaster, the presence and gentle counsel of John Kingsley, a retired priest, makes all the difference to several people at the conference. “Who do you think is suffering because you can’t forgive Adam?” he asks Callie. The anvil drops: Callie’s not stupid, and a new and better life suddenly opens before her.
The story is told through Callie’s point of view, with some sidesteps into the minds of the other main characters. There are several rather odious characters, but Kate Charles gives even these some humanity and empathy. Highly recommended.
More than one mystery intersect in another adventure from Kate Charles. She’s an experienced expat author living in England exploring the mysteries of faith, love, family and violence in her books. In this fourth Callie Anson novel, it is her circle of acquaintances who are involved in a variety of actions and decisions, old and new, that drive the story and its sometimes complicated relationships.
Callie travels from London to Cambridge to attend a reunion of her classmates, graduates from theological seminary. She will have to confront both the scenes and at least one man with whom she was deeply emotionally involved during her time there: a man who unceremoniously dumped her in a shameful and hurtful way. Around her are arrayed classmates and older theologians who help Callie’s travel to emotional understanding. Meanwhile, the new love of her life, a London policeman who functions as a Family Liaison officer, becomes involved in the murder of a young man in Paddington Square. As intriguing as the convoluted relationships among the religious that are examined in this story are, the murder of a school boy with only a single tenuous link to the other plot, leads to examinations of working and absent parents, stresses in modern society and pressures of various kinds on law enforcement. Together, the development of these separate plot lines present a realistic picture of modern life.
These ideas and more are nicely embodied in the characters brought to the page by the author. The messages are many, perhaps too many, but the author’s delicate touch leaves them to the reader to accept or pass over. None is presented in such a way that one feels manipulated or into forced acceptance.
Charles nicely places the action in several consummately English locations. No generics here. She’s been called a most English of writers and compared favorably to Agatha Christie in these aspects. All in all an excellent, calm and deliberate story that can leave a reader with considerable food for thought.
The idyllic village on the jacket of The Corpse in the Cellar by Kel Richards gives no suggestion of horrors to come. Setting his novel in 1933, Richards boldly uses C. S. Lewis and his brother, Warnie, as leading characters, combining them with the fictional Tom Morris, pupil of Lewis and narrator of the tale, as the three set out on a walking holiday.
Accidents (the destruction of Lewis’s wallet in a fire) and the cumbersome procedures in the nearest village bank are almost cosmic to the modern reader, brain-washed as we are by the convenience and speed of modern systems. When the seemingly impossible murder occurs in the bank vault, Lewis’s powerful brain cuts through the fog of conflicting evidence.
Richards’s book is also a strong Christian polemic: Lewis is busy trying to convert his intelligent pupil Tom to follow his own route from atheism to belief. I’m not sure, however, of the readership that is being aimed at: both agnostic lovers of Agatha Christie and believing Lewis fans will be tempted to skip the religious dialectic, and some readers might find the over-use of adverbs to qualify speech – sagely, confidently, heartily, etc. – off-putting. They weaken a strong basic plot.
If The Corpse in the Cellar is a meander down a pre-war country lane, False Tongues by Kate Charles is like negotiating a complex modern motorway junction at speed. This is Charles’s sixth novel about Callie Anson, a curare in a busy central-London parish. Anson is persuaded to attend a reunion at her Cambridge theological college, leaving behind her new love, PC Mark Lombardi, currently embroiled in trying to solve the murder of Sebastian Frost, a tall, beautiful teenager found bleeding to death on Paddington Green, in Anson’s parish.
We’re not deep in the online world, ruled here by Facebook. Cyber-bullying flourishes: reality is masked, horrifyingly warped, and very difficult for the police to pin down. “A suicide note via Facebook . . . why not? This was the Facebook generation: they lived their lives on the Internet.”
Charles tells a riveting tale, and helps the reader follow her complex web of more than 50 vividly drawn characters, plus the interaction of the dual setting, plus a group of very different social worlds, by giving a full cast list.
Since it’s the first Callie Anson story I’ve read (there are six in the series). I found the list essential, but I greatly enjoyed this modern ecclesiastical mystery, and look forward to reading earlier volumes that are currently being republished by Marylebone House.
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