While I was a student studying theology a bout of illness kept me in bed for a few days. The chaplain visited and gave me a book to read which he said he had enjoyed and which would take my mind off things. It did.
The book was When in Rome by Ngaio Marsh, and the chaplain who recommended it was Rowan Williams, later to be Archbishop of Canterbury. The book isn’t exactly in the ‘Golden Age of Detection Fiction’ (it was published in 1970) but it is a good read. Much of the action takes place in a church in Rome which has a great resemblance to the beautiful Basilica of San Clemente. A recommended crime novel read.
Holiday time, and especially Christmas time is a popular time to read classic crime novels and so here are a few further recommendations.
Another Ngaio Marsh was recommended by a dear friend, the late Fr Mark Dalby. Death in Ecstasy was first published in the Golden Age (1936). Mark was a lover of classic crime novels and an expert on the strange world of the Episcopi Vaganti (in essence people who get themselves made bishops by somewhat dubious routes and form tiny congregations). The murder is set in the worship of such a church and captures the atmosphere splendidly with its obsession in esoteric ritual, camp choir members, a beautiful lady, a con man and a poisened chalice all being parts of the mystery.
Sr Jean CHN recommends Busman’s Honeymoon by that great Golden Age crime writer – Dorothy L Sayers.
Jean remembers enjoying reading it years ago and the plot, and detail, is still well remembered. It was published in 1937 and is the last novel of the eleven novels by Dorothy L Sayers which feature Lord Peter Wimsey. The crime occurs after his marriage to Harriet Vane – in fact it happens, as the title suggests, on their honeymoon in an old farmhouse, Talboys, in Hertfordshire.
Another clergy friend, Canon Andrea Jones, also has a love of Golden Age detection. Andrea’s choice is Holy Disorders by Edmund Crispin.
Andrea comments ‘The novel was published in the 1940s but is still very much Golden Age. Gervase Fen, the amateur sleuth, is overlooked compared with Campion, Wimsey or Alleyne but apart from the ingenious plots the books are very funny and Holy Disorders also has the advantage of being set in a Cathedral city, the victim the organist, and the precentor, and various canons amongst the suspects.
And finally, this year I am reading a slightly obscure choice from the Golden Age. Arrest the Bishop? by Winifred Peck.
Published in 1949 but set in a bishop’s house in December 1920, this novel has a wonderful set of people suspected of murdering an obnoxious rogue clergyman. Suspects include the Bishop, the Chancellor of the Diocese, a Canon of the diocese, the butler, and more. All made more realistic by the fact that the author was herself the daughter of a bishop, and a Bishop of Manchester, no less, the redoubtable Edmund Arbuthnot Knox.