The mystery of the deadly fruitcake in the nunnery
G.M. Malliet continues to update the traditional British village mystery in her highly entertaining A Demon Summer.
While the village of Nether Monkslip is typical, the twist that Malliet spins so well is that the local vicar, Max Tudor, was a former agent with MI5, the British counter-intelligence agency.
While this conceit might seem a bit too precious, Malliet’s respect for the genre seamlessly makes Max’s former career a natural part of the plot. Malliet’s series looks at how a former spy, disillusioned with the job, reinvents himself as an Anglican priest. It also shows how a religious man administers to an increasingly secular world.
Of course, these being mysteries, Max’s former occupation often comes in quite handy.
The fourth novel in this series offers a change in scenery as a nunnery stands in for the village. Max is asked by Bishop Nigel St. Stephen to take a brief break from his duties to spend a few nights at Monkbury Abbey. The bishop has taken a hands-off approach to the nunnery, but lately, he suspects “financial shenanigans” because large donations have gone missing.
When the despised Earl of Lislelivet becomes seriously ill after eating a fruitcake given to him by the sisters, the bishop worries the poisoning wasn’t accidental. He’s relying on Max’s spy skills to learn the truth about the fruitcake and the abbey’s fi- nances.
Max discovers the religious atmosphere is rife with gossip and legends of buried treasure, and the nunnery is divided — some nuns want to modernize the abbey while others do not.
Wry humour permeates A Demon Summer. After all, haven’t most of us thought that fruitcakes were, in some way, lethal?
Yet Malliet also weaves in a serious subplot about families, devotion and why some people are attracted to a near cloistered life.
Each visit to Nether Monkslip with its mix of eccentric and ordinary residents has been a delight.
A Demon Summer pays tribute to the village mystery while showing its relevance to modern times.
A Demon Summer G.M. Malliet Minotaur