Murder in a Cathedral (Robert Amiss Series #7)

Overview

For many years Westonbury Cathedral has been dominated by a clique of High Church gays, so when Norman Cooper, an austere, intolerant, happy-clappy evangelist, is appointed dean, there is shock, outrage and fear.
David Elworthy, the gentle and politically innocent new bishop, is distraught at the prospect of warfare between the factions; contentious issues include the camp lady chapel and the gay memorial under construction in the deanery ...

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Overview

For many years Westonbury Cathedral has been dominated by a clique of High Church gays, so when Norman Cooper, an austere, intolerant, happy-clappy evangelist, is appointed dean, there is shock, outrage and fear.
David Elworthy, the gentle and politically innocent new bishop, is distraught at the prospect of warfare between the factions; contentious issues include the camp lady chapel and the gay memorial under construction in the deanery garden.
Desperate for help, Elworthy cries on the shoulder of his old friend, the redoubtable Baroness Troutbeck, who forces her unofficial troubleshooter, Robert Amiss, to move into the bishop's palace.
Amiss, Troutbeck and the cat Plutarch address themselves in their various ways to the bishop's problems, which very soon include a clerical corpse in the cathedral. Is it suicide? Or is it murder? And who is likely to be next?

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
This blithe series puts itself on the side of the angels by merrily, and staunchly, subverting every tenet of political correctness. — Patricia Craig, The Independent
Patricia Craig
This blithe series puts itself on the side of the angels by merrily, and staunchly, subverting every tenet of political correctness.
The Independent
Kirkus Reviews
In a seventh outing, ex-civil servant Robert Amiss (Ten Lords A Leapin', 1996, etc.) is unable, as usual, to resist the pressure of his abrasive but good-hearted, longtime friend Ida (Jack) Troutbeck, now baroness. This time, she wants him to take a job as assistant to David Elworthy, just appointed Bishop of the Church of England's Westonbury Cathedral. David, recently widowed, is unable to cope with the five eccentric, mostly gay canons who run things, let alone the newly chosen Dean—Norman Cooper, a fundamentalist married for just a year to Bible-spouting Tilly. Robert makes friendly overtures to the canons—organist Jeremy Flubert, who cares for nothing but his music; the sweet and clever Cecil Davage; campy and aristocracy-obsessed Dominic Fedden-Jones; pallid Sebastian Trustrum; and unhappy Alice Wolpurtstone. The arrival of the Dean and Tilly, after a trip to America's Bible Belt, and the possibility that Cooper might bring to Westonbury the Reverend Beverly Johns, known as the "Rev Bev," to conduct his foot- stamping, hand-clapping sermons in the sacred precincts of the Cathedral (a move that must be approved by a canon majority) set off a wave of vandalism, thievery, suicide, and murder. Robert's Scotland Yard buddy Ellis Pooley lends a hand to diffident, soon- to-retire, prizewinning flower-grower Superintendent Godson, but it's Robert who deciphers the crucial key to the whole messy business.

Sporadically amusing if the reader overlooks the hyped-up, near-hysterical plotting and concentrates on the literate, arch, but often funny verbal exchanges.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590581346
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2004
  • Series: Robert Amiss Series , #7
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 1,433,720
  • Product dimensions: 5.56 (w) x 8.64 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Since 1993 Ruth has written seriously and/or frivolously for almost every national newspaper in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom and appears frequently on radio and television in Ireland, the UK and on the BBC World Service. Ruth feels both Irish and English and greatly enjoys being part of both cultures. The Anglo-Irish Murders, her ninth crime novel, is a satire on the peace process. Three times a bridesmaid, she has been shortlisted by the Crime Writers Association for the John Creasey Award for the best first novel and twice for the Last Laugh award for the funniest crime novel of the year.

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Read an Excerpt

Murder in a Cathedral


By Ruth Dudley Edwards

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 1996 Ruth Dudley Edwards
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59058-134-6


Chapter One

As their speed was reduced to a slow crawl in the queue for the M11, the baroness reached down to her left and picked up a receiver.

'You've got a car phone,' said Amiss disdainfully. 'How vulgar!'

'Vulgarity doesn't frighten me.' She punched in some numbers. 'It's me. Get me Mary Lou.'

'Do you ever say hello or goodbye?'

'What's the point?'

'It's called manners. But then, I forgot. You don't have any.'

'Has he arrived? Good. Take him for a run or something to give him an appetite for dinner ... Yes, got him ... Within the hour.'

'You seem to regard the place as your own personal fiefdom.'

'Isn't it?' She sounded surprised. 'I'm its boss, amn't I? And a baroness to boot. Who needs democracy? I was cut out to be a benevolent dictator. I find it saves a lot of time.'

As they reached the motorway, she put her foot down and within sixty seconds had manoeuvred the car into the fast lane and was flashing her lights energetically at the Porsche in front. 'Out of my way!'

'He's already well over the speed limit,' said Amiss faintly.

'Slowcoaches like that shouldn't be in the fast lane.' The Porsche obediently moved over and she put her foot down harder on the accelerator. As they overtook, Amiss observed the look of incredulity on the face of the spivish driver when he grasped that he had been cut up by a woman twice his age and size, who was confounding her impertinence by waving at him cheerily.

'Taught him a lesson,' she cried happily.

Getting no response, she turned to view Amiss. 'You're very quiet all of a sudden. Not nervous, are you?'

'Me? Nervous? Certainly not. There's nothing I like better than being driven at forty miles over the speed limit by a madwoman keeping only one eye on the road.'

'Just as well.' She began to gain on a BMW and recommenced the light-flashing. This time the driver pulled over immediately, but sounded his horn as she flew past. Amiss looked apprehensively towards the back seat. 'Plutarch's strangely quiet. Normally she creates like hell when confined to basket. Especially when people sound horns. How did you work this magic? Hypnotism?'

'Nothing magic about a Mickey Finn.'

'You doped her?'

'Certainly I doped her. We don't want her arriving at St Martha's a nervous wreck, do we? She's much better off having a pleasant kip.'

'Where did you acquire a Mickey Finn?'

'Good grief, stop asking boring domestic questions. At a Mickey Finn emporium, of course. I always keep a supply. Cretin!' she shouted, flashing her lights furiously at a Rover that doggedly stayed in front. 'Doesn't he realize I'm in a hurry?'

'Tell me about this about-to-be-bishop. It might take my mind off your driving.'

'David? What do you want to know?'

'Why are you two so pally?'

'Usual reasons.' She chuckled.

'You're not having an affair with a bishop-elect?'

'No, no. I've rarely seen a bishop—or even a bishop-elect—that I fancied. Our fling was a long time ago. And he was no bishop at the time, I can tell you.'

'A goer?'

'Wouldn't say that. Keen when he got going, but initially young, bashful and awash with scruples. Took me quite a lot of hard work to make him yield to my girlish charms: ordinands led pretty sheltered lives forty years ago, you know.'

'Are you telling me that you seduced bishop-to-be David when he was embarking on his clerical career? Are there no bounds to your depravity?'

She paused for a moment to launch another vigorous assault on the recalcitrant driver ahead. 'Reluctantly, I admit that he was just an ordinary undergraduate at the time. I was in my last year and he was in his first, but he was wrestling with his vocation. Meeting me did him the world of good. Mind you I think he's stayed on the straight and narrow ever since, though our dalliance has always been a matter of sweet—if unspoken—nostalgia for us both.'

'And you didn't think of marrying him?'

She smiled triumphantly. 'Ah, that got him.' The obdurate Rover had finally admitted defeat and pulled into the middle lane. 'They always yield to coaxing in the end.'

'Coaxing! I'd call it mugging. Anyway you didn't want to marry this blushing bishop-to-be?'

'If I had ever wanted to get married, it would have been to someone a bit livelier than David Elworthy, I can tell you. Anyway I don't think I was cut out to be a clergyman's wife.'

'The only suitable marital partner I can think of for you would be a pirate. Captain Morgan in his heyday, perhaps.'

'It's more fun being a pirate oneself than a pirate's moll. I rather fancy swinging around the rigging with a knife in my teeth and making my enemies walk the plank.'

'Anyway, what's he like?'

'David? Sweet. Innocent. Honourable. Reduced to total helplessness by the loss of his wife. She was the one with the balls.'

'A battleaxe?'

'Nope. Good egg, old Cornelia. Yes, she'd have been a bit of a dictator at Westonbury, but behind the scenes, and she would have sorted things out kindly and sensibly and left the place happier. David doesn't have a clue what to do now he's on his own. He'd never have been given the job if he hadn't been married to her. The gossip is the appointments unit thought the smart move was to appoint a pussycat with a tiger as minder. But Cornelia died shortly after they arrived in Westonbury and he's been floundering ever since.'

'In what?'

'Distress and dither.'

'About what?' asked Amiss impatiently, fed up with the routine difficulty of abstracting information from the baroness.

'Oh God, all the usual C of E stuff. Queers in the cloister, new happy-clappy dean, defections over women priests, fundraising crises. No kind of environment for a poor bugger of a theologian.'

'He wasn't a vicar?'

'Never been as much as a curate. Spent the last thirty years or so in various academic jobs and ended up running ... connection, presiding over—Cornelia ran it—one of the better theological colleges. Now that's quite enough spoon-feeding. You'll see for yourself tonight.'

'What?'

'What he's like. He's staying with us until tomorrow.'

'You didn't mention that.'

'Who did you think I was giving Mary Lou instructions about?'

'A dog, I thought.'

'Dogs. Cats. Bishops. They're all the same. Just need care, love and a firm hand.'

'Jack! I don't trust you an inch. Why am I being brought to meet this bishop? What's going on in that fat devious head of yours? You've more in mind than simply having me squire you to see Bishop Elworthy get his mitre.'

'How suspicious you are.'

'And rightly so. Come on. Give.'

'Well, I will admit I want to avoid David getting any ideas about me.'

'Come again?'

'Since Cornelia died he's been very lonely. He's the sort of man who needs to be married.'

'Jack, you're not going to tell me that any bishop would be mad enough to think of you as a potential wife.'

'I should think I'd be excellent,' she said stiffly. 'A kind of up-market, benign Mrs Proudie. However I don't think I can add such a job to my present range of duties. Perhaps I'm slowing up, but I find that between running St Martha's, throwing my weight around in the House of Lords and living a bit, I seem to have enough to do. I think being a bishop's lady in Westonbury into the bargain might be just a bit too taxing.'

'Not to speak of constraining on your love life.'

'You could say that. I'm a bit old to be smuggling lovers up the back staircase.'

'Do I understand that I'm to pass myself off as your current inamorato despite our thirty-year age gap?'

'It's all the rage these days I hear—older women and younger men. Just look attentive, that's all. A bit of doglike devotion wouldn't go amiss. David is very polite and he'll be too embarrassed to ask ... Blimey, nearly missed it.'

She accelerated into the middle lane, braked hard and shot into the slow lane just in time to get onto the slip road. 'That was your fault. You were talking too much. You're supposed to keep your eye on the road signs. Why else do you think I take you with me?'

'You deserve to be put away indefinitely for reckless driving.'

'Rubbish. There's nothing reckless about my driving. It's sound as a bell. Never had an accident yet.'

'That's only because everybody else behaves responsibly and gives into your tyranny.' 'Story of my life,' she said. 'Lie back and enjoy it.'

Chapter Two

Amiss had been expecting Bishop-elect Elworthy to be on the weedy and frail side. Instead he seemed the epitome of muscular Christianity—hair still dark except at the temples, stomach still flat, handshake vigorous and voice strong. It came as no surprise to learn that he had just triumphed at tennis over the lithe Mary Lou Denslow.

The baroness smote Elworthy on the back: unlike most people in receipt of such a mark of her affection, he did not totter under the force of the blow. 'Attaboy, David. Glad you can still show up the young. Robert, put Mary Lou down, give them champagne and we'll toast the victor.'

As they clinked their glasses, the baroness pronounced, 'That's the secret of a good old age; trample youth into the mud at every opportunity. Mind you, you don't deserve that much credit. The blighters have no stamina these days. Not like us. They're not eating enough red meat.' She plumped herself back into her armchair.

'I haven't seen you doing much prancing around the court, Jack,' observed Mary Lou amiably.

'Tennis never was my sport. Too genteel. But I fancy myself against you in the hundred yard dash. Shall we try it now?' She nodded in the direction of the garden.

Elworthy looked alarmed. 'My dear Ida ...' She raised an index finger reprovingly. 'Oh, sorry. I'll try to remember to call you Jack, but it's not easy for me. In any case, don't you think it might be a little unseemly to have the mistress and bursar of this establishment racing each other across the lawn at twilight?'

Amiss sniggered. 'Seemly isn't the first word I would use to describe the conduct of affairs in St Martha's. But don't worry. She's only bluffing.'

The baroness jumped up, lifted her skirts and began to tuck them into her eau-de-nil directoire knickers. Mary Lou spoke firmly. 'Just stop it, Jack. I have absolutely no intention of racing you. It would either kill you or humiliate me. And in any case, it's time we joined our colleagues: they'll be wanting to get a look at David. Francis is very excited. He'll be dying to hear all about what you'll be wearing on Monday, David.'

Elworthy assumed a hunted expression. 'I don't want to be pawed over by any Francises,' he said querulously. 'There's quite enough of that in Westonbury.'

'Don't worry,' said the baroness. 'If you evince distress, I will interpose my body between yours and his. Now come on, you lot. Duty calls.'

* * *

St Martha's hospitality was considerably less austere than during Amiss's brief tenure as a fellow. Conversation was better too. While much of the talk at high table had the parochialism to be expected of academics, the baroness on several occasions succeeded in livening things up by introducing remarks that caused consternation among some of her colleagues' guests and led to spirited arguments. Francis Pusey's interior decorator friend was outraged by her claim that there had been no worthwhile art or music in England since Turner and Elgar respectively, while her contention that far from considering sharing a single currency with Europe, the British government should forthwith abandon Johnny Foreigner to make a mess of things in his own way, and while they were at it abolish the metric system and return to pounds, shillings and pence, caused Elworthy some alarm.

'My dear Id ... Jack! Surely it is out of the question to turn the clock back in such a manner. One must move with the times.'

'Bollocks.' She smiled genially around the table. 'This has all been very pleasant, but I fear I must now ask you to excuse me and my guests: we have business to discuss. But the bursar will do the honours in the senior combination room. I hope you enjoy the '66 port.'

* * *

'Cigar?'

Elworthy waved away the mahogany box. 'No, no,' he said. 'Bad for the chest.'

'What an old fusspot you are. Robert?'

'Love to. Can't.'

'Why on earth not?' 'Because—as I've explained to you on numerous occasions but you refuse to take in—even one puff is liable to send me straight back to the fags.'

'Ah yes,' she said. 'The fags. Exactly what we're here to discuss.' She threw herself into her armchair, lit her cigar, drew in smoke, exhaled expansively and smiled seraphically. Plutarch, who had been sleeping off the Mickey Finn and a good supper, leaped onto her lap and put up unprotestingly with some robust stroking. 'OK, David. Shoot.'

Elworthy took a cautious sip of his brandy. 'All this is a bit delicate, Ida. Sorry, Jack.' He looked nervously at Amiss.

'Stop shillyshallying. I've told you before that Robert is my faithful lieutenant.' A memory struck her. She smiled coyly. 'And more. I have no secrets from him.'

Amiss was too full of good food and drink to care how she was portraying their relationship. He settled back cosily in his armchair, his feet on the table in front, sipped his brandy and gazed contentedly into the log fire, hoping Elworthy's story would be gripping enough to keep him awake.

Elworthy turned to him. 'How much do you know about the modern Church of England?'

'Not in good shape, I gather. Short of money and members. Splits over the ordination of women.'

'Do you see any theological tensions?'

'You mean the frolicking queers at loggerheads with the happy-clappies,' interjected the baroness. 'Just like in Trollope.'

'There weren't queers ... I mean gays—'

'I won't have that excellent word misused in my college.'

'Oh, sod off,' said Amiss. 'There weren't homosexuals in Trollope. The war was simply between the respective enthusiasts for High-and Low-Church practices.'

She snorted. 'Same thing.'

'Is it your view that all those clergy leaning towards the High are of the homosexual persuasion, while no homosexuals lean towards the Low?'

'Oh, stop nit-picking, David. You know very well what I mean.'

'Do I? Have you not—?'

'Listen, David, will you for Christ's sake stop trying to turn this conversation into a bloody Socratic dialogue. You're not supposed to be conducting a seminar in which you will tease out the truth; you're telling us about what is making your life a misery at Westonbury.'

He looked embarrassed. 'Oh dear. You're quite right. Indeed that's just what poor Cornelia used to say to me: "Stop pussyfooting and spit it out."'

'She was a good girl,' said the baroness gruffly.

'She was. I am utterly bereft. For I fear that apart from being a wonderful wife, she protected me so much that in addition to being a widower, I feel like a constitutional monarch, suddenly deprived of his wisest counsellor—his prime minister—just at a moment when the country faces revolution.'

The baroness spoke gently. 'David, just tell us the story of what's been going on at Westonbury.'

'I don't know where to begin.'

'Begin with your appointment.'

'I was asked last September to take the job.'

'Right.'

'I didn't really want to but Cornelia said I should. She pointed out that although our theological college had been spared the axe there was no guarantee it would survive the next round of cuts. Life is very insecure since the church commissioners lost all those hundreds of millions in property speculation. Why, there is a possibility that they may decide to sell my palace and dispatch me to a villa.'

'Surely you fancied being a bishop just a little bit? However high-minded you are, it must be a slightly thrilling prospect. At the very least all that flummery must be great fun—swanking around in public in cloaks and purple waistcoats and silly hats. In the Lords we only get to put on fancy dress once a year. You'll be doing it at least once a week. I feel quite envious.'

'You would.' Elworthy smiled gently. 'But then you always liked showing off. I don't. Except sometimes when I win a game of tennis or score in some scholarly debate. But of course I would be deluding myself if I didn't admit I was pleased with the honour conferred on me by Her Majesty. And Westonbury wasn't a frightening cathedral. It's small, off the tourist track and it seemed quite tranquil. "Mouldering," Cornelia called it approvingly. After all it seemed to have run smoothly for twenty-five years under the same bishop and dean.'

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Murder in a Cathedral by Ruth Dudley Edwards Copyright © 1996 by Ruth Dudley Edwards. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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