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!
I think Murder Before Evensong sounds good! Will look for it and a second to be out this year - great!
Hm, Washington Black sounded good- at first! but I think I trust your judgement on this one.
'Murder Before Evensong' is already on my wish list following previous mentions you have made about it. To me, it definitely sounds more like a cozy mystery than not, especially with that village setting, together with the fact that the vicar's most pressing matter to hand revolves around the installation of a toilet in the church! The fact that I know a little about the author also helps and I can just imagine him not being able to resist adding a few smatterings of subdued humour, sprinkled liberally with anecdotes. He definitely has the knack of weaving a good story, even in a short radio slot!
'Washington Black' sounds a little like the book I have just finished reading ('The Three Of Us' by Ore Agbaje-Williams), which was chugging along nicely until the last few chapters, when it seemed to lose its way a bit and left me second guessing the outcome, as there was no definitive ending. However, I am kinda hooked on these narrative rich books, so I am still minded to add this one to my wish list.
Happy Reading :)
Washington Black sounds like it could have been really good. It's too bad it ended up just okay. But hey, now I don't have to add it to my infinitely long TBR list! ;D
There is something about the English village setting, isn't there, Cath? And I do like the sound of the mystery in Murder Before Evensong. It sounds engaging. As for the other, I know just what you mean about mysteries that don't quite draw the reader in, whether it's because of the characters or something else. Sometimes it just doesn't gel for a person.
Now I'm sold, Murder Before Evensong has been solemnly put to my wishlist!
I was still intrigued by Washington Black, though. Maybe to really appreciate it, we mustn't expect is as a modern Jules Verne, but treat the adventure as an entertaining background to an otherwise thought-provoking/emotional story? I don't know. I checked Goodreads, and noticed that this book is a love-or-hate thing for readers. I'm usually intrigued by this kind of book, so we'll see! :)
Kay: Yes, I think it's a very solid start to a new series, I will definitely be looking out for the next book.
Jeane: The book is now looking for a home so if we were neighbours I would pass it over the fence and then you could try it to see if it's for you, because plenty of people have enjoyed it. And I did, but only up to a certain point.
Yvonne: Yes, Murder Before Evensong is definitely a cosy but, where they can be a bit samey, this sticks out because the wry humour in it. Oh, you have no idea how nasty things can get over installing loos in a church. LOL
How strange, because Washington Black has no definitive end either. I meant to mention that in my review. It's left hanging and I wondered if the author plans to write a sort of 'Further adventures of' sequel because Washington is still in his late teens at the end of the book.
Lark: Washington Black is certainly 'fine'... just not a great deal more than that. And it's a bit of a shame but there you go, such is reading. :-)
Margot: Yes, it seems that quintessential English village setting really gets to people, especially readers around the world. That said, we Brits also like it as long as it's well done. And the weird thing is, these villages don't really change much, if someone came back from the 1920s they would still recognise their home village.
As to the other book, we're all so individual in our tastes, small things that would put one person off a book might not even be noticed by others. And one thing I've realised, my family (who also read a lot) don't worry about the quality of the writing as much as I do. We have interesting discussions about that.
Fanda: I hope you enjoy Murder Before Evensong if you get to it.
Well, I gave Washington Black 3 stars on Goodreads so I don't come into the 'love it or hate it' category. I thought it was fine but just maybe lacked a bit of depth. I would encourage you to try it, if you come across it, as I'm not about putting people off reading books just because I'm not smitten.
My library has it! So now on my list to give a try someday.
Jeane: Getting it free from the library is absolutely the way to go!
Murder Before Evensong sounds interesting, worth the read. I like to read mysteries set in churches. It is not available here yet so I don't have to rush out and get it, but I will read it someday. Washington Black did not appeal that much from the description, so I think I can not worry about that one at this point.
I was interested in your comment about how other members of your family don't worry about the quality of the writing as much you do. At this point in my life, the quality of the writing is the top factor for me, but I look back to my reading when I was younger (my 20s through my 40s?) and I read just about everything and I don't think I was too critical of anything. I have often wondered why that is. I also am very swayed by the ending of a book. Nowadays, if a book has a great ending, I often forgive it's other failings.
Murder Before Evensong sounds right up my street, Cath. Washington Black sounds a bit disjointed, though, but I'm quite intrigued and might look out for it, as the subject is one I'm interested in.
Tracy: I definitely think Murder Before Evensong is worth picking up if you happen to see it after it's available in the US.
Yes, now you mention it I was not very critical of books when I younger too. I think perhaps we get more picky as we get older, I certainly am. Things that never used to annoy me do now. I'm getting more tolerant in some respects, less in others.
Val: The subject interests me too and actually the start of the book, which deals with slavery and its consequences, is the strongest part in my opinion.
Just stopping by to let you know that, thanks to your review, I’ve added this book to my wish list. I quoted a passage from this post and link it up in my post
Fanda: Thanks for letting me know, I do enjoy your 'wishlist' posts!
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