Callie Anson is a newly ordained Anglican Priest and has just received her first posting as Curate of All Saints’ Church in Paddington, London. Recovering from the breakup of a relationship and coming to terms with her demanding new job (which includes more than its fair share of abuse as some people do not take well to the idea of female priests) are enough to deal with but she is soon embroiled in a murder investigation too. A hardline conservative priest is strangled and one of Callie’s closest friends is the prime, indeed only, suspect.
As my memory resembles a sieve I have no clue what prompted me to mooch this book nearly three years ago but I am immensely pleased that I did. Even without the mystery element (which was perfectly entertaining in its own right) this book has a lot to offer. You might not think you’d be absorbed by a depiction of the modern Anglican church and its internal political issues (including the ordination of women and the acceptance of openly homosexual clergy) but Charles has made them utterly compelling reading. She manages to be respectful of an institution she clearly loves but does not fawn or fail to criticize elements of doctrine or collective behaviour that she finds outdated and/or offensive. Most importantly though she does all this as part of an intriguing story, not as some political diatribe on the various issues raised. I wish that all the authors I read who have something political to say were equally well-versed in the art of showing (not telling).
Another aspect of the novel I found fascinating was its depiction of the media and the relationship between the police and the media. There is a journalist character here who drives much of the plot development and she, or at least her actions, are at times horrific, being entirely devoid of journalistic ethics, fact checking and the like. At one point in particular she shreds someone’s career based solely on one person’s claims without, it appears, any attempt (or even need) to check the claims made or interview the person who was the subject of them. I don’t know enough about either English law or media to know if this is realistic but if it is then it is a very sad indictment on the English fourth estate. I know our media here in Australia isn’t perfect but they wouldn’t quite get away with that.
The mystery plot is almost a minor component then of what made this book interesting for me but that’s not to say it wasn’t interesting too. While police could only see one possible suspect readers were provided motivations for several more potential culprits in what was something of an old-fashioned whodunnit. Even (especially?) among the various clergy and their families there were plenty of secrets which might have warranted killing someone in order to keep. Charles teases these out adroitly and keeps readers guessing until the end.
In some ways this book is quite scathing of the institution that is the Anglican church but it is also reverential at times. Various characters describe what drew them to the church or what aspects keep them coming back, even when they don’t agree with everything going on from a political standpoint, and I liked the balance this provided. It made the book much more compelling than a one-sided polemic would have been. I really had no idea what to expect when I plucked this book from the depths of my TBR pile and was pleasantly surprised to find a thought-provoking and engaging book which I gobbled up in a single, late night sitting.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4.5/5
Author website http://www.katecharles.com/
Publisher Poisoned Pen Press 
Length 339 pages
Book Series #1 in the Callie Anson trilogy
Source I mooched it