The Attenbury Emeralds – Jill Paton Walsh

A new Lord Peter Wimsey novel, what a treat! Jill Paton Walsh has successfully completed a couple of manuscripts left by Dorothy L Sayers & now she has created a completely new story using Sayers’s familiar characters. The previous Wimsey story, A Presumption of Death, was set during WWII. Now, in The Attenbury Emeralds, it’s 1951. Peter Wimsey is 60, still blissfully happy with Harriet, his detective writing wife. They have three sons, live in London & still own the country house, Talboys, that Peter bought for Harriet as a wedding present & where they spent their honeymoon in Busman’s Honeymoon. Peter’s mother, the Dowager Duchess, is still her inimitable self at 85. Bunter hasn’t changed a bit or grown a day older & lives in with his wife, Hope, & son Peter, known as PB.

Peter is reminded of his first case, the disappearance of the Attenbury emeralds, by the obituary of Lord Attenbury. It was 1921, Wimsey had returned from the trenches in a nervous mental state & the house party at the Attenburys was to be his first foray into Society. The Attenburys were family friends & it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to test the extent of Wimsey’s recovery. The occasion for the house party was the announcement of the engagement of the eldest daughter, Charlotte, to Reggie Northerby. At dinner on the first evening, Charlotte was to wear the family jewels, a suite of emeralds with an enormous square-cut emerald as the centrepiece. The emerald could be worn as part of a necklace or as a tiara & had a Persian inscription on the back. The Attenburys are surprised to receive a visit from Mr Nandine Osmanthus, an envoy from an Indian Maharaja wanting to buy the emerald. The Maharaja owned the pair of this one & Wimsey sees the jewel, almost identical to the Attenbury’s emerald except for the inscription on the back. Lord Attenbury refuses to sell & sends Osmanthus off pretty smartly.

That night, when Charlotte goes to her room to dress for dinner, she discovers the emerald is missing. She appears at dinner wearing the paste replica of the jewels that was kept in the house as the real emeralds were kept at the bank & only brought out on special occasions. But, the theft can’t be kept secret & Wimsey begins investigating, hindered by heavy-footed Inspector Sugg & helped by Charles Parker, later an Inspector at Scotland Yard & brother-in-law of Peter. Peter eventually tracks the jewel down to a pawnbroker & discovers that Reggie Northerby had pawned it. Charlotte breaks her engagement but Northerby isn’t prosecuted for the theft & everything seems to have been successfully hushed up.

A few days after Wimsey & Bunter have told Harriet the story, the present Lord Attenbury, grandson of the old Lord, appears asking for Peter’s help. The authenticity of the emerald in the bank has been questioned. Attenbury is desperate to sell the emerald to save the family home but nothing can be done until the disputed provenance is settled. Peter agrees to investigate as someone has turned up claiming that the emerald in the Attenbury’s bank is not their emerald & can prove it. The emerald is certainly authentic but how could it have been swapped for another? Is this the Maharaja’s emerald that Peter saw all those years ago? There was no opportunity for Mr Osmanthus to have swapped the stones & the emerald has only been out of the vault a few times since.

Peter follows the trail back over the years, talking to the family & anyone else who had access to the jewel. He discovers some accidental deaths that now seem less accidental & more sinister. Then he discovers that there were originally three emeralds & the Maharaja will do anything to reunite them.

This is a wonderful mystery story. I loved meeting up with Peter, Harriet, Bunter, Charles Parker, the Duke of Denver & his snobbish Duchess. Jill Paton Walsh has immersed herself in Dorothy L Sayers’s work & doesn’t strike a wrong note throughout. Peter & Harriet trade quotations & sleuth as energetically as they ever did. This is a real treat for fans of the Wimsey stories who have read the series over & over again (as I have) & are thrilled to have a new story to enjoy.

This is my last post for 2010. Happy New Year to everyone who visits the blog. I’ll be back tomorrow with some reflections on my first year as a blogger & some reading resolutions for 2011.

Books of the Year – Letters, Diaries, Biography & History

My favourite Non Fiction books of the year fall into one of these four categories. I often find that history & biography are hard to seperate as I read very little contemporary biography so the biographies I do read tend to be of historical figures. Letters & diaries are either from a historical period I’m interested in or written by an author whose work I enjoy.

Decca, the letters of Jessica Mitford, was one of the many books by the Mitford sisters I read this year. Jessica is the most likeable & sympathetic of the sisters to me & I loved reading her letters.

Nella Last is now one of the best-known diarists of WWII. She wrote her diaries for Mass Observation & kept writing after the War almost until her death. I read her WWII diaries a few years ago & this year read two more volumes, Nella Last’s Peace & Nella Last in the 1950s.

Alice Dudeney was one of my discoveries this year. A browse through an anthology of diarists led me to A Lewes Diary by Mrs Henry Dudeney. A famous novelist in her day, Alice is now completely forgotten. Her diary was rescued from the archives of a local Archaeological Society. I was completely absorbed in her life & tortured marriage.

I’ll list my favourite history & biography chronologically. Eleanor Butler is one of those shadowy medieval women who often slip through the cracks except when their story impinges on great events like the accession of Richard III. John Ashdown-Hill’s biography, Eleanor, the Secret Queen, rescues her from that obscurity.

The Days of Duchess Anne by Rosalind K Marshall was a book I’d had on the tbr shelves for years. I loved reading about the household of the Duchess of Hamilton & life in Scotland in the late 17th century.

Effie : A Victorian Scandal by Merryn Williams is the story of a marriage that went spectacularly wrong.

Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey is the story of the Fitzwilliam family of Wentworth House & the coal mines that created their fortune. A wonderful example of social history taking in the Fitzwilliams & their workers.

Well, there’s my list of best books of the year. I can’t wait to read your comments & visit my favourite blogs & read about everyone else’s favourites. Here’s to another great year of reading in 2011.

The Last White Rose – Desmond Seward

I’m always interested to read books about lesser-known characters in periods I’ve read a lot about. I’ve read countless books about Henry VIII, his six wives, Mary, Queen of Scots & Elizabeth. In recent years I’ve enjoyed books about Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Elizabeth Raleigh & Bess of Hardwick. Not the usual suspects.

Desmond Seward’s new book is about the Yorkist pretenders to the throne who disturbed the peace of Henry VII & Henry VIII. As Shakespeare said, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 & almost immediately his flimsy claim to the throne was under attack from those loyal to the House of York. Henry’s claim was based on the illegitimate Lancastrian descent of his mother, Margaret Beaufort, & he was reluctant to admit that his marriage to Elizabeth of York was a way of strengthening this claim.  Rumours about the fate of the Princes in the Tower, Edward V & Richard, Duke of York, had contributed to the downfall of Richard III, who was widely suspected of murdering them. The uncertainty about their fate would have repercussions throughout the reign of Henry VII.

Richard III’s nephew, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, was another pretender to be feared. Richard had made him his heir after the death of his own son & within two years of Bosworth, Henry was forced to confront Lincoln at the Battle of Stoke. Lincoln was killed but Henry could not rest easy as almost immediately a young boy called Lambert Simnel appeared, claiming to be Edward, Earl of Warwick, another nephew of Richard III. Henry knew that Warwick was safely imprisoned in the Tower of London but Simnel was taken to Ireland where there were many Yorkist supporters & he was proclaimed King. Henry had little trouble quashing this attempt & he realised that Simnel was just a pawn in the hands of ambitious men. He put the boy to work in his kitchens rather than executing him. Henry wasn’t always so merciful.

The next pretender was much more dangerous. Perkin Warbeck claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, who escaped when his brother was murdered by Richard III’s henchmen & made his way to Burgundy. Here he was taken up by Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, a sister of Richard III. Margaret hated Henry & would be a thorn in his side for years as she encouraged any Yorkist pretender who came her way. Warbeck was certainly an enigma. He had a certain resemblance to his supposed father, Edward IV, spoke good English & knew a considerable amount about life at the English Court. Henry accused Margaret of training Warbeck but he was also acknowledged by other rulers. James IV of Scotland supported him, marrying him to one of his relatives, Lady Katherine Gordon. James wasn’t averse to tormenting Henry as the Scots & the English hated each other but he does seem to have believed that Warbeck was the Duke of York. Unfortunately, Warbeck’s “subjects” objected to an army of Scots & other mercenaries pillaging & stealing on their way south from Scotland & Warbeck’s attempts foundered through bad planning, bad luck & lack of money. He was finally captured by Henry & imprisoned in the Tower with the young Earl of Warwick. Henry was content to let both young men rot in the Tower until he decided to marry his son Arthur to the daughter of Isabella & Ferdinand of Spain. The Spanish monarchs were reluctant to let their daughter marry into a dynasty so insecure on the throne. Henry decided Warwick must die & fabricated a conspiracy that embroiled Warwick & Perkin Warbeck as well. Both men were executed in 1499.

As one White Rose (the symbol of the House of York) was cut down, others took their place. The Earl of Lincoln’s brothers, the de la Poles, plotted against Henry VII & Henry VIII, with the help of their Aunt Margaret in Burgundy & other Yorkists in England. Richard de la Pole was the most formidable of these brothers. He spent most of his life in exile in Europe but was a formidable soldier & had the backing of the King of France. Lack of money was his problem as well as the fact that he was only ever a pawn in the ambitions of European monarchs who wanted to get the better of Henry VIII. His death, fighting for the King of France at the Battle of Pavia in 1516, delighted Henry VIII.

The Earl of Warwick’s sister Margaret had been married to a Tudor sympathiser, Richard Pole. Margaret was initially quite a favourite of Henry VIII. He restored some of her property, created her Countess of Somerset in her own right & made her governess to his daughter, Mary. She was very close to Mary & Katherine of Aragon & it was Henry’s attempt to divorce Katherine & renounce the authority of the Pope that led to a breach between Margaret & the King. Margaret’s sons, Richard, Geoffrey & Reginald would all inspire plots to depose Henry VIII & replace him on the throne with his daughter, Mary, who would marry one of these cousins & restore the Catholic faith to England. The Yorkist cause had become entwined with the desire of many people to turn back the religious changes Henry had made.  Henry’s paranoia eventually led to Margaret’s imprisonment in the Tower & she was eventually executed on a trumped-up charge in 1541 at the age of 68.  

The Last White Rose is the fascinating story of all these pretenders to the throne. Several of the conspiracies almost succeeded. How different the history of England would have been if that had happened.

Books of the Year – Mystery & Crime

I discovered several new authors this year & read new instalments in some favourite series. The Serpent Pool by Martin Edwards is the latest in his Lake District series & I’m looking forward to the next book, The Hanging Wood, in the New Year. This series has everything I enjoy in a mystery. Atmospheric setting, great plot & a relationship between the main characters that has me on tenterhooks.

Ann Cleeves’s award-winning Shetland Quartet had somehow passed me by until this year when I read the last book, Blue Lightning, first. I’ve since gone back to White Nights & Raven Black. Again, a great location & intriguing characters made these books highlights for me this year.

Elly Griffiths was another new author for me this year. I read the first two books in her series about Ruth Galloway, forensic anthropologist & can’t wait for the third to be published next year. Here are links to my reviews of The Crossing Places & The Janus Stone.

Non Fiction tomorrow!

Books of the Year – Fiction & Classics

I’ve decided to borrow Cornflower’s idea of choosing my favourite books in different categories instead of a straight Top 10 of the year. I’ve read about 150 books this year (& it’s not over yet!) & there have been some wonderful reads among them. Just click on the links to go to my original posts.

My favourite Persephone book of the year was High Wages by Dorothy Whipple. The story of Jane Carter’s rise from draper’s assistant to dress shop owner & a wonderful picture of provincial English life in the early 20th century. Unputdownable.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I don’t need to say much about this. Booker Prize winner, fantastic historical novel about Thomas Cromwell & the Court of Henry VIII.

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton. I loved this story of a divorced Englishwoman in her 40s moving to a village in the Cevennes & creating a new life.

Then there were the classics. If there was one author I read more than any other this year, it would have to be Wilkie Collins. I’ve been reading his novels for years & I’ve read his most famous books, The Moonstone & The Woman In White. This year I read Man & Wife, one of his lesser-known novels, a collection of his novellas, Rambles Beyond Railways, about his travels in Cornwall & some of his short stories.

The surprise classic read of the year for me was The String of Pearls by Thomas Prest. This rollicking melodrama is the basis for the opera Sweeney Todd. I loved it. It was a real surprise as I knew very little about the book before reading it. I expected it to be a bit of a clunky potboiler but, although there were more than a few plot holes, I was swept away by the enthusiam of the telling.

I’ve been reading Emile Zola’s novels over the past few years. This year, I read The Ladies’ Paradise, the story of the first department store in Paris & a homage to shopping. Gorgeous, lush descriptions of fabrics & dresses & a collection of wonderful characters.

My favourite mysteries need a post all of their own so I’ll be back with more good reads tomorrow.

Death in War & Peace – Pat Jalland

Some years ago I read Pat Jalland’s book, Death in the Victorian Family, a fascinating look at the rituals of death & mourning in 19th century Britain. Pat Jalland’s new book is a sequel of sorts to the earlier book, taking her exploration of the English response to death from 1914-1970. The experiences of both soldiers & their families in WWI was the beginning of a change in the response of mourners to death. In the Victorian period, the majority of people died at home, cared for by their families & their local communities. There were rituals to be undergone as the body was laid out, friends & family viewed the body & then attended the funeral. A period of mourning was normal where the bereaved were distinguished by their black clothes & a withdrawal from social activity. Then, gradually, they would return to ordinary life.

WWI completed the rejection of Victorian mourning rituals that had already begun. The scale of death was unprecedented. Men killed in action were buried on or near the battlefield so the family couldn’t attend the funeral. Often there was no body to bury as men were blown to pieces by bombs or lost in No Man’s Land as the battle moved on. Then, there were the thousands of missing, whose fate was uncertain. Many parents, siblings & wives found it almost impossible to believe their man was dead when they hadn’t seen his body & they had no definite proof of death.

Violet Cecil went to extraordinary lengths to discover the fate of her son, George, who was killed in action in September 1914, only a month after the war began. Violet was a well-connected woman, the daughter & sister of generals. She was married to Lord Edward Cecil, son of Lord Salisbury. George was initially reported missing & it was months later that his family learnt what had happened to him. She wrote to her sister, Olive,

I am broken too, my old darling, to have lost our darling, to have lost him so young, before he had any chance- to think that all the years of our lives must be lived without him is crushing. I am overcome by it and cannot pretend I am not.

Violet called on all her family connections to search for George. Amazingly she was able to go to France with the help of the American Ambassador & the Mayor of Villers Cotteret, the town near where George’s regiment was fighting. With the help of the Red Cross, local villagers & her connections, Violet eventually found the mass grave where her son & other members of his regiment were buried. She was able to have the bodies exhumed, identified & reburied. Violet was also able to bring comfort & certainty to the families of the other soldiers buried with George. There were nearly 90 bodies exhumed & over 70 were able to be identified. Violet wrote to all the families, telling them of the exhumation & sending photographs of the graves. Violet knew how much it meant to her to know where her son was & to have a physical focus for her grief & she was able to help the families of her son’s comrades in a practical way that helped her to mourn as well. The extracts of the letters to Violet from the soldiers who died with George are very moving. Most had received no more than a brief, formal notification from the War Office that their sons were buried at Villers Cotteret but Violet was able to give them all the details they craved. She had discovered as much as possible about the battle as well so the families had some sense of the circumstances of their loved one’s death.

Violet’s quest can be compared to Rudyard Kipling’s search for his son, John, when he was reported missing later in the War. Kipling was a neighbour of Violet’s & as he had helped in the search for George, Violet did all she could for the Kiplings as they interviewed soldiers & tried to discover John’s fate. They finally had confirmation of his death but his body was never found.

After the war, many families made pilgrimages to the cemeteries laid out by the Imperial War Graves Commission to visit the place where their loved one was buried. The Bickersteth family left diaries that show how comforting it was for grieving relatives to go on these journeys. Morris Bickersteth was killed at the Somme in July 1916. He had two brothers in the Army, one of them a Chaplain, & the three young men had managed to meet just before the battle to talk about their fears of death & their hopes of meeting again afterwards. The Bickersteths were a religious family & their faith was a comfort to Morris’s parents, Ella & Samuel. Julian did all he could to discover what had happened to Morris,

You will see then, dear ones, that it is quite impossible to get the body back…But I don’t worry about that so much and you mustn’t either, dearest ones…I never felt so strong in my faith that the dear lad isn’t dead but lives…His grave is all the world, and his memory is ours to cherish for all time, and he isn’t far from us.

His investigations laid the foundations for the journeys the family made to his grave from 1919 to 1931. Although the family erected a memorial tablet in their local church, this wasn’t the same as having an actual gravesite to focus on as they mourned. Their first visit in 1919 was only possible because Julian had already been to the site & located the grave. The ground had changed so much as the opposing armies fought over the same areas & without his earlier visits, they would not have been able to find the grave. This was before the IWGC had laid out the cemeteries that have become such an iconic image of the war.

The Bickersteths left detailed diaries of their visits to Morris’s grave & it’s obvious that these journeys helped his parents to grieve & move forward. The pilgrimages were more problematic for Morris’s brothers who were also veterans. The trips brought back painful memories of battles & the horrific sights they’d witnessed. Morris’s brother Burgon found it impossible to sleep on these trips & he used his grief as an incentive to write a history of his regiment & exorcise the memories.

I’ve concentrated on these two stories from the early chapters of Death in War & Peace but there is so much more in this book. There are chapters on the mining disasters in northern England in the interwar period where dozens of men were killed in explosions or collapses in mines. Often the bodies could not be retrieved & whole communities were devastated by the loss of breadwinners. Traditional mourning rituals had survived in the north much longer than elsewhere & families were devastated by the death of a loved one with no body or if the body was recovered, the stigma of burial in a mass grave, the traditional way of burying paupers. There was also the financial trauma as mine owners rarely paid compensation to the families & women were left with children to support.

This postwar period was also the beginning of the trend towards hiding grief & showing a brave face to the world. When so many had been bereaved during the war & after the flu epidemic that followed it, it was seen as self-indulgent to mourn publicly. When so many had lost loved ones, the stiff upper lip was expected. This attitude was reinforced during WWII when the war was brought home to many during the Blitz when so many civilians were killed. The young pilots of Bomber Command faced dreadful odds of survival. Over 35% of crews would not survive. The men of Bomber Command also faced the stigma after the war of being blamed for the bombings of German cities such as Dresden & their contribution to the war effort was dismissed until very recently. Peggy Ryle’s husband, George, was reported missing after a flight in April 1944 & she kept a diary as a way of talking to George that expresses her grief at not knowing his fate,

Very sad tonight, darling, just can’t help missing you so desperately and keep thinking I may never see you again on earth, it’s ghastly…I can’t go on without you…You know darling, I think I was numbed at first by shock, because now the pain gets worse and worse every day.

Peggy felt the pressure to keep going bravely without breaking down in public or showing her grief. She turned to praying for miracles in the hope that she would have news that he was alive but gradually she had to accept that George was dead. In September came news that the bodies of a crew member of her husband’s had been found along with five unidentifiable bodies. She realised that one of those men must be George. Her diary ends here & it seems to mark her acceptance of his death.

After WWII the National Health Service led to more changes in the way people dealt with death. More deaths took place in hospitals &, with advances in medical treatment, people were living longer & dying of illnesses such as cancer & dementia. Many doctors saw every death as a failure on their part & so it became an embarrassment when a patient died. They were often shuffled off to a side ward. Families had no way to structure their mourning. Religious faith was declining, mourning clothes & seclusion were a thing of the past. The rise of cremations rather than burials also led to a sanitisation of death. The 1960s saw a gradual change in attitudes & it became more acceptable to seek counselling or talk more openly about grief. The hospice movement also helped to bring some dignity to the dying & gave the families a way of dealing with death.

Death in War & Peace is a moving & involving look at the ways people have coped with grief over the last century. The many personal examples from letters, diaries & interviews are often very touching & create a very human context for the theoretical & statistical sections of the book. I found it fascinating.

Abby’s Merry Christmas

Abby & I would like to wish all visitors to I Prefer Reading a very Merry Christmas. As you can see from these photos, Abby has started relaxing already. It’s a beautiful summer day here in Melbourne, crisp this morning & a warm, sunny afternoon.

I’ve been baking cheese & spinach bread to take to my sister’s for Christmas lunch tomorrow. I’ve done a little housework, organized a few things for tomorrow & Abby has been keeping an eye on my progress. Best of all, I don’t have to go anywhere near a shop of any description. I’m listening to Annie Lennox & Bryn Terfel’s new Christmas CDs which arrived in the mailbox today, at the last possible moment for festive listening & later today I’ll be going to a family carol service with friends, a Christmas tradition now for over 10 years.

Over the next week I’ll be posting about my books of the year. I usually do a Top 10 but this year, I think I’ll copy Cornflower’s terrific idea of listing my top books in categories like mysteries, history, classics & biography.

Merry Christmas everyone. I hope the weather in Europe & the US doesn’t stop you being where you want to be this Christmas.

Rambles Beyond Railways – Wilkie Collins

Rambles Beyond Railways is Wilkie Collins’s account of a walking tour through Cornwall in 1850. He just made it before the railways though because a note written for the second edition refuses to apologise for his title, now out of date. This is a very good humoured book. Wilkie & his artist companion, Henry Brandling, want to see everything of note in the county. They are objects of pity & amusement to the locals who can’t understand why gentlemen who can afford to travel by coach or horseback, choose to walk. Nevertheless, they are cheered by the kindness & hospitality of the people they meet on their travels. They visit all the well-known towns & villages, St Ives, Liskeard, the pilchard fisheries along the coast, Loo Pool & the Lizard Head.

One of their most fascinating expeditions is their visit to Botallack Mine, a copper mine on the coast where most of the workings & shafts are hundreds of feet  beneath the sea. The excursion begins amusingly with Wilkie being fitted out by a gigantic miner in the appropriate clothing for a trip down a hot, dirty mine. When the miner has obligingly hoisted Wilkie’s trousers up under his armpits & folded over his sleeves several times, he’s ready at last to descend into the mine. They descend ladders until they reach a depth of 420 feet but this isn’t the bottom of the mine. The shafts descend for hundreds more feet & spread out beneath the ocean for hundreds more. They decide that they’ve gone far enough, trying to imagine the miners working for 8 hour shifts in such hot, moist, dirty conditions, and thankfully ascend to the surface.

They are amazed by famous natural phenomena like the Cheese Wring (photo above from, a pile of stones that seems to defy gravity as it balances precariously with the smallest stones at the bottom of the pile & huge stones on top. I could sympathise with Wilkie as he gingerly stood under the overhanging stones fearing they might topple over & crush him at any minute. Kynance Cove is famous for the water spout known as the Devil’s Bellows & the Devil’s Throat emits an eerie groan as the water rushes into it. The history of St Michael’s Mount (photo below from  is told through a series of “dissolving pictures” that take the reader from the earliest Stone Age people of the area through medieval times when the monastery was built to modern times.

I read this book on my e-reader & I can see I’m going to have to take a lot more notes to review an e-book than a printed book where I can flick back & forth & leave post-it notes on pages I want to quote or remember. It’s been quite tedious trying to remember placenames & find details again. Still, I couldn’t have easily read this book without the e-reader. Finding pictures to illustrate the post will also be more challenging without the cover of the book to photograph. Still, as a first test of the e-reader, it was very successful. I think I’ve been converted!

* Thank you to everyone who told me that the picture of St Michael’s Mount in the original post was actually Mont St Michel in France! I’ve replaced it with the Cornish Mount by Turner.

The Reluctant Detective – Martha Ockley

I love a good clerical mystery & I’ve found a new author to follow. The Reluctant Detective is the first book in a new series by Martha Ockley, a new author to me. This book is in the tradition of my favourite clerical mystery authors, Kate Charles & D M Greenwood with a touch of Dorothy L Sayers & Agatha Christie.

Faith Morgan is a woman in her 30s, recently ordained after a career in the police force that became unsatisfying once she felt a vocation for the Church. As well as a career, Faith also left behind a serious relationship with Detective Inspector Ben Shorter. Faith has been working in an inner-city parish but is interested in moving to a rural parish. Little Worthy is a quiet village near Winchester. Faith knows the village from childhood holidays & is feeling a little nostalgic as she arrives on a Sunday morning just before the service begins. Her hopes of remaining anonymous are immediately dashed by the beady eyes of churchwarden, Pat Montesque, who catches the glint of her cross on the collar of her dress & moves in to find out everything about Faith in ten minutes or less. The incumbent, Alistair Ingram, is about to retire because of ill-health & the parish of St James’s would be a new challenge for Faith.

Faith’s nostalgic pleasure in the church is shattered when Alistair Ingram collapses & dies during Communion. Her police training takes over as she rushes to offer help but she soon realises that this may not be a simple death from a heart attack but something more sinister. Her instincts are correct. Ingram was poisoned. She’s disconcerted but not surprised when Ben Shorter arrives to head the investigation team. Their relationship foundered on his inability to understand her vocation & also his involvement in another case that went wrong. The details of this case are unclear but Ben obviously disappointed Faith in his handling of a vulnerable suspect & their relationship never recovered.

Faith is asked to fill in as Vicar of St James’s until a new incumbent is appointed & she finds herself becoming more & more involved with the parish & her new parishioners. She can’t stop herself doing a little investigating. Could the answer lie in Ingram’s past life as a financial consultant? In his spiky relationship with his son, Don? In his relationship with a divorced parishioner? Or was the dispute with a neighbouring farmer over a piece of land enough to push the farmer, a troubled loner, over the edge? There are lots of motives & suspects to mull over, maybe too many, & I picked up enough clues to work out the murderer, but it didn’t matter. I loved this book. I read it in an afternoon. I loved the atmosphere of the rural parish, the characters of the other clergy, including a particularly unpleasant press officer & Faith’s mentor, Canon Jonathan, who makes a brief appearance.

Faith herself is a character I’m looking forward to meeting again. She’s still finding her way in her new life but she has a genuine desire to make a difference & be a spiritual guide to her parishioners. Her relationship with Ben is still smouldering & it will be interesting to see where Ockley takes them in the next book in the series. Martha Ockley is the pen name of Rebecca Jenkins who has a website here. She has written a series of Regency mysteries as well as non-fiction. It’s no wonder that the clerical atmosphere & politics are spot-on as she’s the daughter of the Rt Revd David Jenkins, former Bishop of Durham.

Christmas cooking

I love Christmas baking. The pudding & cake were made weeks ago to the accompaniment of Christmas carols & Handel’s Messiah. Today, I got the cake out of its wrapping to take in to work for morning tea. I don’t do marzipan, just the traditional almonds dotted on the top. This year I baked the cake in my new oven so I’ll be interested to see how it turned out. Of course, I’ve been feeding it with brandy for the last 6 weeks so any deficiencies in texture or crumbliness will be well-hidden.

I’ve also made chocolate truffles as presents for some of my friends at work. I discovered these little foil cases in a kitchen shop & they look much better than the paper cases I usually use. They’re smaller than the paper cases though & you can see it took me a while to get my eye in when rolling the truffles. Still, they won’t mistake them for shop-bought ones!