I can understand why publishers get all excited about books penned by people famous for not being writers. You don’t need to introduce them and they already have a ready public who might be intrigued enough to buy, even those who wouldn’t normally. The plethora of memoirs and autobios shows that appetite.
I’m foolish or gullible enough to have tried several. I even tried Alistair Campbell’s (for those who don’t know him, he was Tony Blair’s spin doctor who told Tone ‘We don’t do God’ and coined the ‘People’ Princess’ for Princess Di). I heard him speak at an event where he took questions. In answer to one sceptic he said he told the publishers that he would only allow it to be published if they assured him it was good enough without his name attached. Funnily enough the dribbling publishers who expected to make a killing from someone notoriously opinionated confirmed it was ‘super’…
Shite, actually, but hey, his ego was easily polished.
Ditto Dickie Osman and his Thursday Murder Club series (Osman, R is host of a popular teatime teaser called ‘Pointless’ – it might just as well have been used to describe his second book). Book one was okay, readable with nicely drawn characters but book two… as dreadful as was Stieg Larsson’s second book in the Girl With series.
So I came to The Rev Richard Coles novel, Murder Before Evensong, the first Canon Clement Mystery with a degree of scepticism. I like the author (more than I ever did A. Campbell). For a start he was in Bronski Beat and the Communards with the epic Jimmy Sommerville and had hits such as
Then he was host of Saturday Live, a staple of Saturday mornings in this house and inspired a splendid comedy series, Rev.
But would his novel fail as had others before him?
Canon Daniel Clement is Rector of Champton. He has been there for eight years, living at the Rectory alongside his widowed mother – opinionated, fearless, ever-so-slightly annoying Audrey and his two dachshunds, Cosmo and Hilda. When Daniel announces a plan to install a lavatory in church, the parish is suddenly (and unexpectedly) divided: as lines are drawn, long-buried secrets come dangerously close to destroying the apparent calm of the village.
And then Anthony Bowness, cousin to Bernard de Floures, patron of Champton, is found dead in the church, stabbed in the neck with a pair of secateurs. As the bodies start piling up, Canon Daniel attempts to keep his fractured community together… and catch a killer.
Short answer? Nope, not at all, it’s a quality piece of fiction by any measure. The humour of the man that echoes an earlier age with touches of knowing the modern world is in evidence throughout and his observations on people, possibly informed by his years in a ministry are spot on. He gets rural England in ways often undermined these days by cliché and caricature. It’s a well structured mystery, with enough clues to kept you guessing a plausible involvement for the main character in what would otherwise have been largely a police procedural.
This is worthy of your time, not because of who wrote but because of how good a writer he is.