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Tuesday 6 December 2016

‘Cheating the Hangman’ by Judith Cutler

Published by Allison & Busby,
21 April 2016.

Reverend Tobias Campion is the well-meaning rector of the parish of Moreton, St Jude’s.  He is a dedicated young man, happy to fulfil his priestly role, although his choice of profession has estranged him from his noble father, Lord Hartland, who had hoped his son would follow a military career. 

A chilling prologue sets the scene for this gritty, yet elegant, Georgian murder mystery.  The novel is faithful to its historical context; deference and decorum imbue the text, whilst the social inequalities that prevailed at the time are evident in the juxtaposition of wealth, enjoyed by Campions rich family and friends, and poverty, the lot of many of his parishioners.

After a surprise visit from his archdeacon, Campion finds himself the unwilling caretaker priest of All Souls Church in Clavercote whose own rector, the Reverend Adolphus Coates, has suddenly gone abroad to seek a health cure.  Following his delivery of the Easter morning service at Clavercote, Campion decides to ride home through the woods.  The day of resurrection, bathed in Spring sunshine, is marred when he makes a grotesque discovery - a decomposed corpse nailed to a tree.  Campion, Dr Edmund Hansard and Hansard’s wife, Maria, launch themselves into a perilous investigation that exposes some unholy happenings in the detective-clergyman’s temporary parish and puts them all in danger.

Judith Cutler’s clerical sleuth enjoys guilty pleasures, like riding his magnificent horse, Titus; wearing fine clothes; and enjoying a glass of Chablis or Madeira.  Notwithstanding the horror of the events that unfold as the book progresses, Campion narrates his memoir with self-deprecating frankness and humour.  He accompanies the reader through numerous enigmatic twists with the charm of an amiable companion, an experience that I enjoyed immensely.
Reviewer: Dorothy Marshall-Gent

Judith Cutler was born in the Black Country, just outside Birmingham, later moving to the Birmingham suburb of Harborne. Judith started writing while she was at the then Oldbury Grammar School, winning the Critical Quarterly Short Story prize with the second story she wrote. She subsequently read English at university. It was an attack of chickenpox caught from her son that kick-started her writing career. One way of dealing with the itch was to hold a pencil in one hand, a block of paper in the other - and so she wrote her first novel. This eventually appeared in a much revised version as Coming Alive, published by Severn House. Judith has seven series. The first two featured amateur sleuth Sophie Rivers (10 books) and Detective Sergeant Kate Power (6 Books). Then came Josie Wells, a middle-aged woman with a quick tongue, and a love of good food, there are two books, The Food Detective and The Chinese Takeout. The Lina Townsend books are set in the world of antiques and there are five books in this series. There are two books featuring Tobias Campion set in the Regency period, and her series featuring Chief Superintendent Fran Harman (6 books), and Jodie Welsh, Rector’s wife and amateur sleuth. Her most recent series features a head teacher. The first book is Head Start. Judith has also written two standalone’s Scar Tissue and Staging Death.

Dorothy Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

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