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Wednesday 1 November 2023

‘Cruel Habitations' by Kate Charles

Published by Little Brown, 
5 October 2000.
ISBN 0-316-64622-9 (HB)

For sisters Alison & Jacquie Barrett, their holiday in Greece in 1989, is the holiday of a lifetime. Brought up strictly by their parents in the confines of the Free Baptist Fellowship, the sisters take this opportunity to spread their wings. Jacquie sees it as a last fling before her impending marriage, but Alison falls in love. Little do they realise that this carefree holiday will shape both their destiny's.

Eleven years later when Sophie Lilburn first sees Quire Close, she is initially struck by its beauty, and is beguiled by her husband Chris, who has been offered the position of Tenor Lay Clerk and History teacher, to leave London and move to Westmead. While Chris takes up his post and considers it a privilege to live and work in the shadow of the great Westmead Cathedral, Sophie becomes increasingly suffocated, not only by the shadow of the Cathedral, but by the intimacy of the close and its inhabitants.

With time on her hands, she becomes increasingly desperate to have a child and obsessively trapped by the daily visits of Leslie Clunch who has recently retired after being Head Verger for thirty years. Sophie learns that the power lies between Leslie Clunch and Elspeth Verey, widow of the Dean of Westmead. And that it is not wise to cross either of them. When Elspeth's son learns she is a well-known photographer, he takes to visiting her, which is a welcome respite from the oppression that Sophie is feeling. But in such a small community nothing escapes the gossips and when she learns of the unsolved murder of a young woman over a decade ago, she feels even more threatened by the people around her.

Following the death of her father, Jacquie, now divorced, seeks to find her sister who she has not seen since her wedding. Her quest leads her to Westmead, where she finds more that she could ever have imagined.

Kate Charles has woven a truly absorbing tale, of murder, and how the repercussions of one’s actions will reverberate down the years. In a short review it is not possible to portray the power of the Reverend Prew, the gossipy Jeremy Hammond and the delightful Canon Swan. I urge you to read it for yourselves.

The fascinating characters in this book blew me away. I didn't want it to end, I wanted to go on reading about their lives.
Lizzie Hayes

Kate Charles was born in the US but has lived in England for many years. Her novels are set - mostly - against the colourful background of the Church of England. She is a former Chairman of the Crime Writers' Association and the Barbara Pym Society, and a member of the prestigious Detection Club. For 23 years she was co-organiser of the St. Hilda's Mystery and Crime conference.

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