Fa­ther Brown? Phooey! Give us Max Tu­dor!

Sherbrooke Record - - FRONT PAGE - Len­noxville li­brary

On the oc­ca­sion of my re­cent birth­day [I won’t say which!], a friend from Bos­ton gave me a book by G. M. Mal­liet. Mal­liet is a well-trav­elled Amer­i­can writer who spent sev­eral years do­ing grad­u­ate stud­ies in the UK and now re­sides in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia. The some­what re­dun­dantly ti­tled A Fa­tal Win­ter (2012) is the sec­ond in the sea­son­ally ti­tled Max Tu­dor se­ries, of which there are now six with a sev­enth due out next year. She is also the au­thor of the In­spec­tor St. Just se­ries, one of which won an Agatha Award, and sev­eral of her other works have been nom­i­nated for the same prize. Six cat­e­gories of Agatha Awards are given an­nu­ally by Mal­ice Do­mes­tic Inc. for the cozy mys­tery sub­genre (closed set­ting, no sex or vi­o­lence, amateur de­tec­tive). Wey­combe, her first stand-alone novel, is sched­uled for re­lease next month. The Len­noxville Li­brary has three of her books: two in English and one in French trans­la­tion, and A Fa­tal Win­ter can be speed­ily ac­cessed through in­ter-li­brary loan.

Mal­liet’s work has been com­pared favourably to that of both Agatha Christie and the Town­ships’ own Louise Penny, whose lat­est In­spec­tor Ga­mache mys­tery, Glass Houses, is avail­able at the Len­noxville Li­brary. In fact, A Fa­tal Win­ter re­veals sev­eral links to our lo­cal celeb. There is an ac­knowl­edge­ment of Ms. Penny’s gen­eros­ity in sup­port­ing Mal­liet’s writ­ing am­bi­tions, and there is also a very strong en­dorse­ment from the Knowl­ton au­thor her­self. Of an­other work, Penny has said, “Rarely have I read de­scrip­tions that have left me gasp­ing, in both their hi­lar­ity and their painful truth.”

Max Tu­dor is a for­mer MI5 agent who has heard the call and taken Holy Or­ders. He is now vicar of St. Ed­wold’s church in the vil­lage of Nether Monkslip in South West Eng­land. (Mind you, this “vil­lage” does have train ser­vice, which is more than most of us vil­lagers can say.) But Max has not for­got­ten the skills he ac­quired at MI5, nor has he lost his love of the chase. Th­ese facts are not wasted on DCI Cot­ton of the Monkslip­su­per-mare po­lice. So when Oscar Footrustle, lord of nearby Chedrow Cas­tle, is found mur­dered in his bed, and his twin sis­ter Lady Leti­cia is found dead shortly there­after, Cot­ton knows the man he wants on the in­side.

Os­ten­si­bly Fa­ther Max is brought in to of­fer ad­vice on fu­neral ar­range­ments and to pro­vide grief coun­selling. He ar­rives to find the cas­tle is full of the Footrustles’ chil­dren and grand­chil­dren who have been sum­moned, much to their surpise, by Oscar (ante-mortem) from var­i­ous places around the globe for a fam­ily Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tion. Max quickly dis­cov­ers that no one is in­ter­ested in his ideas for fu­ner­als and that there is scant grief to coun­sel. More­over, the sib­lings’ an­i­mos­ity to­wards each other is not much less than it had been to­wards their re­cently de­ceased par­ents.

One of Mal­liet’s strengths is her drily hu­mor­ous ren­di­tions of char­ac­ters’ thoughts: “Max was a peace­maker by na­ture, and con­flict of any size sparked an over­whelm­ing need in him to in­ter­vene, to quell the dis­tur­bance. Max now called on all his ac­quired skills in calm­ing trou­bled wa­ters. After all, he re­minded him­self, he had faced down a va­ri­ety of ran­corous church com­mit­tees, not to men­tion the no­to­ri­ously cranky Nether Monkslip Book Club, whose mem­bers of­ten came to grief in de­cid­ing on the monthly read. Deal­ing with this dys­func­tional fam­ily, a mur­der­ous psy­chopath among them, should be easy by com­par­i­son.”

Max’s cover is fully blown when Cot­ton in­vites him to sit in on the in­ter­views with the sur­vivors/wit­nesses/sus­pects. Everyone, in­clud­ing the ser­vants, had hopes of re­ceiv­ing an in­her­i­tance, so they all had a mo­tive to kill one or both of the twins. More­over, most of them have had some ex­pe­ri­ence in show busi­ness, so it is dif­fi­cult to tell when they are act­ing and when they are not. Max’s worst fears are re­al­ized when there is an­other mur­der. While this death com­pli­cates mat­ters, it also opens up new av­enues of in­quiry.

A Fa­tal Win­ter is a fun read, or as much fun as one can ex­pect when there are three deaths. A big part of the amuse­ment comes from the ma­jor sub­plot. Fa­ther Max is un­at­tached, dash­ingly hand­some, a skilled dancer, and a lover of an­i­mals. None of this goes un­no­ticed by the women of the vil­lage. If Mal­liet were a man and let her male char­ac­ters talk about women the way her women talk about Max, she would prob­a­bly find her­self be­ing roundly de­nounced from the sec­ond-storey win­dows as a sex­ist swine. “If I thought I’d be in with a chance, I’d dump my old mis­ery-guts of a hus­band and go after Fa­ther Max my­self.”

Read­ers are cau­tioned to have ac­cess to both an ar­chi­tec­tural and a hor­ti­cul­tural dic­tio­nary. Mal­liet goes into con­sid­er­able de­tail in her de­scrip­tion of the cas­tle and the gar­dens that ap­per­tain thereto. And like Louise Penny, she is well ac­quainted with good food. So keep the kitchen door locked when she is describing meals or trips to the bak­ery.

—Vin­cent Cud­dihy

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