I knew I had to read this novel as I have so enjoyed listening to The Reverend Richard Coles on the BBC Radio 4 programme Saturday Live and seeing him on his many TV appearances. I also follow him on Twitter and find his tweets very amusing. So I was expecting great things of this, the start of a new cosy crime series starring a country vicar.
When I read it I was quite surprised as the cosy crime title and light-hearted cover design both raise expectations it will be much funnier, all the way through. And indeed parts of it were funny with some laugh-out-loud moments of pure recognition, as I’m knowledgeable about church life and some of the things that go on. I’m also much in sympathy with vicars about the challenges they face. They try to be all things to all people and can’t easily tell annoying members of the flock what a pain they are (or if they do, they have to tread so softly that I’m sure it takes all the enjoyment out of giving certain individuals any kind of come-uppance). For all have sinned… and for some of the characters in this novel, a few have sinned more dramatically and unexpectedly than others!
Richard Coles’ novel then becomes a fascinating kaleidoscope of parish life in the village of Champton St Mary, with many different characters interacting with each other and the local scene. Finally, it becomes a murder mystery. As I loved the TV sitcom ‘Rev’ (largely inspired by Richard Coles’ own real-life stories, I understand) I recognised several incidents in the life of the well-meaning, gentle, and forbearing vicar, Canon Daniel Clement. The novel certainly has a strong flavour of that sitcom, which was often sad and poignant, as is this book.
I was intrigued by the murder mystery itself, and I did like Daniel’s formidable mother Audrey. Another favourite character was Daniel’s rather irritating and interfering brother Theo, the actor, who made me think a little of ‘the media vicar’ in ‘Rev’ – the irony being that it’s Richard Coles himself, the author, who is truly the media vicar. He certainly must know what it’s like being shadowed and interrogated by an actor in his daily parish life!
Another element of the book I greatly enjoyed was the depiction of the life of the great house at Champton, with the Lord, Bernard, and his family, and the wonderful descriptions of hospitality flowing at the manor in the true noblesse oblige tradition.
With many colourful characters and a hugely observant take on village and parish life, Richard Coles has created a most beguiling novel.
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2 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘Murder Before Evensong’ by Revd. Richard Coles”
Sounds like good fun, Sheila, similar to a book I am currently reading about village life which so reminds me of my early years in a village. It’s called ‘Orphan Lamb’ by Ann Purser, and is highly recommended too.
Thank you for your comment, Sheila. I’ve looked up Ann Purser’s book and see that reviewers have enjoyed the picture of village life it gives. My parents lived in a village in Kent for 30 years. I had a good sense of village life on my visits, and met many of the key people in the community. My son is writing a book and a screenplay based on village life right now! It certainly provides excellent raw material for all different kinds of writers and novelists!