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Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Happy New Year
Published by Ostara Publishing, 2013.
You would think that a Christian retreat house in a remote, beautiful part of north Yorkshire would be safe from the worst excesses of the human psyche. D M Greenwood clearly knows different.
It takes a while for the murder and mayhem to begin in Every Deadly Sin, but by the time the inevitable body is discovered it’s already plain that the motley collection of clergy and faithful who have gathered for a week of prayer and contemplation at St Sylvan’s-at-Rest aren’t quite as pure in heart as they should be.
This is the fifth of the author’s nine-volume Theodora Braithwaite series, first published in the 1990s and revived by a small press dedicated to ensuring the survival of deserving out-of-print crime novels. And on this showing, deserving is what this series is, especially for devotees of ‘cosy’ crime which focuses on quirky characters and beautiful locations rather than fast-paced plots with lots of action and gore.
In the mid-1990s the role of women in the Church of England was still a matter for controversy, a factor D M Greenwood uses to advantage. Theodora Braithwaite herself, deacon and curate in the Church of England, is all self-aware down-to-earth common sense, and arguably the only ‘normal’ person in the group. This, alongside her knowledge of Church tradition and lore, makes her very useful to a floundering detective inspector when the retreat house cook is found with her head bashed in.
All of Church life is there, slightly pastiched, from the self-important bishop through several idiosyncratic clergy to the downtrodden vicar’s wife, with side trips to take in a boisterous party of travellers, a ‘considerable woman’ who keeps the village shop and a taciturn handyman who makes a convenient initial suspect.
Greenwood succeeds in casting a sardonic eye over the Church and its denizens without ever losing sympathy for them. She also has a keen eye for background; St Sylvan’s well is made to sound idyllic, and the car-unfriendly terrain surrounding the retreat house is also vividly realized. And of course she has a neat way with a plot; little is given away in the early stages of Every Deadly Sin, but it’s clear from the outset that all is not as it should be, and when all is finally revealed, the clues have been there all along.
If you’re a fan of saving-the-world action, sexy heroes and feisty heroines, this series probably isn’t for you. But if small-scale but well-crafted plots and well-drawn characters are your thing, there’s much here to enjoy.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Dr Diane M Greenwood came originally from Norfolk in England. She took a first degree in classics at Oxford University, then as a mature student, a second degree in theology at London University. She taught at various schools before working for the diocese of Rochester. She retired as diocesan director of education for the diocese of Rochester in 2004.
She has been described as "a classics teacher of terrifying erudition and eccentricity". Between 1991 and 1999 she published nine books featuring Deaconess Theodora Braithwaite (in her thirties). D M Greenwood was last heard of living in Greenwich with her lurcher.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.