So, two short reviews today, and the first of those is Murder Before Evensong by The Reverend Richard Coles. This is the first book in his new 'Canon Clement' series of murder mystery books.
It's 1988 and Canon Daniel Clement has been the Rector of St. Marys in the village of Champton for eight years. He lives with his mother, the acerbic Audrey, and two dachshunds. The patron of Champton is Bernard de Floures who lives in the stately Champton House along with his son and daughter; living nearby is a cousin, Anthony, down on his luck a bit who is doing historical work in the archives. Life is never simple for a vicar and the battle he's presently fighting is his project to install toilets in the church for the use of parishoners. Various factions are for and against and things are about to turn nasty. When Anthony is found dead in the church, viciously stabbed with a pair of secateurs, the police look to Daniel for information about the village and villagers. Who on Earth would want this rather sad and blameless man dead in such a horrific manner? So, Richard Coles is a bit of a media personality. He broadcasts on the radio I believe and is seen regulary on TV, a couple of years ago he was a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing for instance. He comes over as a very amiable, gentle person and a very good communicator. (He's actually famous twice over because he had a number one hit with a group called The Communards back in the 1980s.) All this he brings to his writing, even though the book is about dead bodies galore! I hesitate to call this a cosy crime novel even though it probably is. There's a delightfully rich strain of humour running right through the book, some excellent observations on human behaviour and I loved the various anecdotes slotted in and wondered if they came from personal experience as a vicar or perhaps those of friends. If you like old fashioned 'English villagey' type crime stories then this might be up your street. I found it well written, rich in background detail, and fun to read: I didn't guess the culprit. So, I think book two is out this year and I'm sure I will read it at some stage because I do have rather an inexplicable weakness for churchy crime books.
Next up, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This book was short-listed for the Man Booker prize in 2018.
George Washington Black, known as 'Wash', is a young slave on a plantation in Barbados in the 1830s. The plantation is run by two brothers. The elder, Erasmus, is a cruel man whose word is law, the younger brother, known as 'Titch', is a scientist trying to perfect a flying machine. For this he needs an assistant and he chooses ten year old, Washington Black, from the slaves on the plantation. The boy's life changes completely as he comes to terms with not being treated as property, because Titch is an Abolutionist. He begins by teaching Wash to read but where the boy's real talent lies is in art, he is an amazing artist able to reproduce plants and animals beautifully. But Titch's main interest is in flying machines and he's busy building one atop a hill on the plantation. Things come to a head when a tragedy occurs. It's not Washington's fault but Titch knows he will be blamed. And so the adventure begins: the two put their trust in the flying machine and take off into the wild blue yonder. Ok, so this was one of those books which sounded fascinating, full of potential, but which didn't quite live up to that promise. The first third takes place on the plantation and is quite gruelling as you will imagine. The elder brother is appalling and it's hard to square his treatment of slaves with that of his brother's. After that it became a reasonable adventure story, ending up by the side of Hudson's Bay in the winter. But then I found Titch's behaviour towards Wash extraordinary and didn't buy it. Then we have a whole section about Wash's time in Nova Scotia. I think my problem was that everything about the novel was 'OK'. Not fascinating or intriguing or anything else, just 'all right'. For a book about slavery, friendship, abandonment, coming of age, it lacked real depth for me. I never really felt completely invested in the characters. But that's just me, Your Mileage May Vary as they say and it 'was' short-listed for the Man Booker Prize so what do I know? LOL!