Book of the Month: January 2018

The Indecent Death of a Madam by Simon Parke

Stormhaven, the least Trip Advised bit of beach in Sussex, has another corpse; and the members of the Etiquette Society, who people the list of suspects, are down by one. One of those still alive is a retired Desert Father.

In this, the darkest of his Abbot Peter murder stories, Simon Parke appears almost, if not entirely, to disconnect his principal protagonist from whatever ties he previously had with God, who is only mentioned twice throughout the book and then not by Peter himself.

If Peter’s monastic past and presumed vocation are in retreat, if his outline is now more uncertain than in any of the preceding books, he is not alone.  Nowhere, nothing, is what they seemed at first.  Stormhaven is no haven against the storm, rather (Parke’s readers know by now) its very denial of them appears to attract them: who would suspect this deed, in this place? Indeed its worst detritus, the abandoned place of refuge – the asylum – ‘became a crime scene the moment they decided to close it down …’

Parke is, in his own words, an introvert: this is not a story written purely to entertain. The subtext is polemic and the choice of site for the murder is important. Explicitly or otherwise, most of Parke’s characters have points to make: through their fictional existence he makes his own point.  The feeling in each that the world needs him, her, to put it right has its roots in early years leaving variously poisoned sap in judge, editor, retired Army officer – even Peter, even Tamsin, his Detective Inspector niece.  Equally in the past is the root cause of the murder itself: it was called Care in the Community.

Not an easy book – none of this series is particularly easy – but if you prefer a who dunnit to have depth, to be more than a clever puzzle, this is for you.

Reviewed by Julia Taylor 

The Indecent Death of a Madam is just £8.49 until 31st January 2018 (RRP £9.99). Available from our online shop + £2.50 postage, or mail order by phoning 01722 326899 or emailing bookshop@sarum.ac.uk.

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