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Wednesday 29 November 2023

‘Who Killed the Curate?’ by Joan Coggin.

Published by Galileo Publishers, 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-91553013-4 (PB)

Lady Lupin Lorimer Hastings (Loops to her friends) goes to a 21st birthday party with her friends, Duds and Tommy Lethbridge. She is seated next to a clergyman (which would not have been her choice) and discovers that he is the most attractive man she has ever seen, somewhat older than her but with a very charming voice, and greying hair that only adds to his general attractiveness.  The Rev Andrew Hastings is likewise enchanted by Lupin and within a few months they are married, and Lupin is living in the vicarage of St Mark’s in the small seaside town of Glanville, Sussex.

Lupin finds life as a vicar’s wife somewhat busier than she had imagined - she is invited to any number of social events and finds that she is expected to be active in many local organisations, with important roles in the Girl Guides, the Mothers’ Union and the Sunday School.  Her confusion about her role and the expectations of Andrew’s parishioners lead to some gently humorous situations, but she begins to make friends and to understand the relationships which exist in her new community.

Christmas approaches and friends are invited to spend time at the vicarage.  They join the church choir and other auxiliary singers at the practice for the carol concert.  Charles Young, Andrew’s curate, is in charge, but obviously not well.  In fact, he is so unwell that he is unable to attend the Christmas Eve service and dies later that evening.  Mr Young has been murdered and Lupin, her London friends and Glanville colleagues try to find out what has led to this.  With the help of Jack Scott, a guest who is a British secret service agent, information is pieced together and the unexpected and sad explanation for the murder is revealed.

Originally published in 1944, this story is set in a fast- vanishing way of life – the author herself was born in 1898.  Lupin is a scatty, kind-hearted, spoilt but not totally un-aware young woman, who manages to contribute to the investigation, providing information from the contracts she has had with the people involved and her own observations of their behaviour.  Some of her conversations will entertain or infuriate, or possibly both.

The story focuses on Lupin and her new life in Glanville and the murder feels like a part of that, rather than the centre of the whole story.  The characters involved have their own stories and old mistakes haunt lives, some being resolved but others having significant effects on the lives of individuals.  This story, has two main story lines which are given the time to develop.  It holds the interest as the individual characters become more familiar and hidden histories are revealed.

This is the first of four stories involving Lady Lupin. 

Other books in the Lady Lupin Quartet:  The Mystery of Orchard House, Why Did She Die? Dancing with Death.
Reviewer: Jo Hesslewood

Joan Coggin (1898 - 1980) aka Joanna Lloyd, was born in 1898 in Lemsford, Hertfordshire, the daughter of the Rev. Frederick Ernest Coggin. Her mother, who was the daughter of Edward Lloyd, founder of Lloyd's Weekly London Newspaper, died when she was eight, and the family moved to Eastbourne, where Coggin lived until her own death in 1980. She was educated, together with her sister Enid, at Wycombe Abbey, a setting she would later use for her girls' school stories, written under the pseudonym Joanna Lloyd. Leaving Wymcombe in 1916, Coggin became involved in the war effort, working as a nurse at Eastbourne. After the war she worked with the blind, and returned to her schoolgirl interest in Guiding. She suffered from a mild form of epilepsy, but aside from the inability to drive, it did not greatly impact her life. Her first novel, And Why Not Knowing, was published in 1929, and was followed by a series of mysteries featuring the amusingly inadvertent detective, Lady Lupin Lorrimer.

Jo Hesslewood.  Crime fiction has been my favourite reading material since as a teenager I first spotted Agatha Christie on the library bookshelves.  For twenty-five years the commute to and from London provided plenty of reading time.  I am fortunate to live in Cambridge, where my local crime fiction book club, Crimecrackers, meets at Heffers Bookshop .  I enjoy attending crime fiction events and currently organise events for the Margery Allingham Society.

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