Most mystery readers are thrilled by Agatha Christieís novels, her stories presenting an era of gut-wrenching murder amidst bucolic English villages. Christie
herself is long gone, but her time-honored tales are being rewritten by current authors whose stories symbolize the evolving dynamic of our
Written with a decidedly modern flavor, the main focus of Benisonís new novel is
a sudden death and disappearance early on. Magician turned English priest Father Tom Christmas moves to the small village of Thornford Regis with his nine-year-old daughter after the bloody murder of his beloved wife. Most troubling is that the perpetrator was never found, and Tom has had to suspend his own grief to ease the grief of others.
At least he has his daughter, Miranda, and he has being doing everything he can to protect her from the fallout. Tom
isn't happy to be left alone with his brother-in-law, Alastair, whose disapproval seems to fall on him ďlike fine rain.Ē Only
Julia--his sister-in-law and the church organist--offers Tom solace from his memories of that terrible autumn day when he found his wife, Lisbeth, lying in a pool of blood.
So what could possibly happen in a sleepy village nestled on the South Devon Hills? Unfortunately, tragedy seems to follow Tom when a body,
identified as missing girl Sybella Parry, is found in a Japanese taiko drum. Did
Sybella, with a whiff of Goth and the dark arts, really take her own life in such as bizarre and showy fashion, or
was she murdered?
Tomís instincts for misfortune are reignited by a funeral which was supposed to be presided over by the incumbent vicar, the reverend Peter Kinsay, who has suddenly vanished without a trace. In this village, everyone holds grudges, but only through the rhythmic tapping of Tomís housekeeper, Madrun Prowse, as she types
daily letters to her mother, do we get to hear some of the villageís darkest, most gossipy secrets.
Peppering his tale with an arbitrary mix of characters, Benisonís plot is tainted with a great deal of suspicion and anger: Colonel Philip Northmoreís horrific memories of internment in a prisoner-of-war
camp are hardened by timeís passage. Sybellaís father, retired pop musician Colm, is visibly devastated at his daughterís murder.
Then there are quick-tempered Liam Drewe of the Waterside cafť and his wife, Mitsuko, whose memory quilts hang in the village hall and come to hold important clues in the rapidly unfolding police investigation.
Like the contents of a muddled nineteenth-century drawing room, Benisonís overused and pretentious prose strafes through the novel, destroying any enjoyment I might have found in it. While the authorís characters mostly wander through the tale, all--including Tom--harboring particular attitudes, dark secrets and hidden agendas.
Much like Tom, I found myself wanting nothing more than a speedy resolution to the murder.
Although Tom exposes his deepest feelings in detail, from his over-protectiveness of Miranda to his more intimate encounters with various suspects, to his overly-mournful thoughts of Lisbeth, the novel rapidly became a test in endurance, tempered only by the intermittently lovely descriptions of Thornford Regis and its pastoral surrounds.