*Nominated for the 2014 Agatha Award*
Agatha Award-winning author G. M. Malliet delights again with the forth entry in her critically acclaimed "Agatha Christie meets Ian Fleming" (Publishers Weekly) mystery series, featuring handsome ex-spy-turned-cleric Father Max Tudor.
Someone has been trying to poison the 15th Earl of Lislelivet. With his gift for making enemies, no one-particularly his wife-is too surprised until they discover the source of the poison: a fruitcake made and sold by the Handmaids of St. Lucy of Monkbury Abbey. Max Tudor, vicar of Nether Monkslip and former MI5 agent, is asked to investigate. But just as Max comes to believe the poisoning was accidental, a body is discovered in the cloister well. G.M. Malliet continues to delight readers in this standout mystery in her clever and engaging Max Tudor series.
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A Demon Summer
A Max Tudor Mystery
By G. M. Malliet
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 G. M. Malliet
All rights reserved.
The community as a whole shall choose its abbess based on her goodness and not on her rank. May God forbid the community should elect a woman only because she conspires to perpetuate its evil ways.
—The Rule of the Order of the Handmaids of St. Lucy
The bell rang for Matins in the middle of a dream, as it often did. Just as she would enter deep sleep—the scientists had a name for it, she could never recall what—Abbess Justina of Monkbury Abbey would be awakened by the bell. This was seldom a welcome interruption, for Abbess Justina was given to pleasant dreams, more often now dreams of her childhood and young girlhood, dreams in which she would be reunited with her family.
It was just before the hour of four a.m. in June, millennium Domini three.
She rose from her narrow bed and dressed by candlelight, first sluicing cold water over her face. Long habit made short work of putting on her habit. It was a costume whose basic design had not changed much over the centuries: atop her sleep shift of unbleached muslin came a black tunic that fell to the tops of her feet, tied at the waist by a cord, and over that was worn a scapular of deep purple—an apron of sorts that draped from the shoulders, front and back, falling to below the knees. The fabric at her wrists was smocked in a pretty diamond design halfway to the elbow, to keep the voluminous sleeves in check. For all its antique quirkiness, it was a practical garment, suitable for work and contemplation, the fabric handwoven on-site of wool from abbey sheep. On ceremonial occasions and in chapter meetings, she would carry her staff of office with its little bell as a symbol of her authority and her right to lead. Otherwise her garb was identical to that of the women in her care.
Nothing in her costume was made of leather, not even her sandals, just as nothing in her diet came from the flesh of four-footed animals. In summer, out of doors, she wore wooden clogs. Meat was forbidden except in cases of illness, when the Rule of the Order of the Handmaids of St. Lucy allowed it for those recuperating.
The abbess still marveled at herself, at times—that she, such a clotheshorse in civilian life, such a devourer of women’s style magazines, given to obsessing over the latest hair products and adornments, had adapted so readily to the habit. Coco Chanel would probably have said the classics never go out of style.
Well, it was difficult to say what Coco might have made of the clogs.
Now Abbess Justina’s hair was cut straight across the nape; every few months or so she would wield the scissors herself, chopping away without the aid of a mirror. She wrapped her shorn head tightly in a linen coif, pinned at the crown, a bit like Katharine Hepburn’s in A Lion in Winter. Over that was draped a black veil, held in place by a narrow woven circlet meant to represent a crown of thorns. She tied a linen wimple like a baby’s bib around her neck. Pinning the coif and attaching the veil took some minutes, the pins stubborn in her swollen fingers. The headgear was worn back from the forehead to allow half an inch of hair to frame the face, the single concession the order had made to modernity. In medieval times a wide starched headband would have sat atop the coif fitted so tightly around face and neck. Truth be told, in those days the headdress might have been adorned with pearls and gemstones, for the nuns of yore had on occasion had a little trouble keeping to their vows of poverty, not to mention chastity and obedience.
Abbess Iris, who had ruled just before Justina, had been the one to decide on the need for a change of habit, modifying the traditional style. The color of the scapular was the major innovation—the deep blue-purple of the iris, as it happened. Of course it all had to be done with the bishop’s approval. The poor man had been absolutely flummoxed at having to pronounce on women’s fashion. He was shown several sketches, like a magazine editor being presented with the new fall line, and vaguely pronounced any of them suitable. The deep purple he thought a slightly racy departure from the centuries of black but he did not demur.
Dear Abbess Iris. A flamboyant but wise character. Now long gone and buried in the cemetery of Monkbury Abbey.
Pity, thought Abbess Justina, she’d done away with the style that covered much of the head, for it would have hidden the gray hair and jowly neckline that had come as one of the booby prizes of late middle age. But at least the coif and veil still prevented one from looking like a Persian cat as the gray hair gained its ruthless hold, like kudzu. If they’d had to change anything, she thought they might have shortened the skirt length, for she still had strong, shapely legs, the product of a youth spent climbing the Welsh mountains like a billy goat. Nun or no nun, one liked to present a pleasing and vigorous appearance to the world.
Following timeless ritual, Abbess Justina reverently kissed a large wooden cross before draping it round her neck to lie flat against her chest. Around her shoulders she now buttoned a hooded mantle. In choir she would pull the hood over her head, for warmth, and for privacy. It also was wonderful for hiding the expression. A strategic bend of the neck and tuck of the chin and one could be as private as a turtle pulling in its head. These little things, these momentary escapes into solitude, were what made living in a community possible.
Learning how to put all this on without the use of a mirror was one of the biggest challenges of the life. She had yet to see a novice who didn’t need extra time in the morning to get all the bits and bobs attached in the right order.
That and mastering the Great Silence. And learning to loosen family ties. And any other number of things that made people wonder why they bothered, these crazy women who chose to live in the middle of nowhere, working and singing and praying. There was no answer to that, but the single-word answer that could be given was Joy. We do it for Joy.
Sometimes she caught a glimpse of herself in the plate-glass window in the kitchen: she liked taking a turn at kitchen duty now and again, even though she was exempt from chores because of her position. It kept her humble. It also gave her access to the thrum of what was really going on in the convent. Interplays and tensions and little personality conflicts that could grow into internecine warfare if not closely watched. Lately there had been undercurrents, of that she was certain. They seemed to date to the time of the earthquake, she thought, registering the irony. That had been a year ago, almost to the day, and measuring just over five on the Richter scale, it had rocked the abbey from side to side in the most terrifying way. For who in England was used to earthquakes?
But the “emotional” undercurrents seemed to be connected with the appointment of the new cellaress, an unpopular choice in some quarters, she knew. The sisters had formed an attachment to Dame Meredith in that role, but of course there was no question of her being able in her weakened condition to carry on that heavy responsibility. And of course forming attachments of any sort had to be discouraged.
There was also some tension surrounding the new novice, although whether she was the cause or the result wasn’t clear. She was not adjusting well to the religious life, which was never a completely easy transition for anyone. Post-traumatic stress disorder they called it now. PTSD. And no wonder, given Sister Rose’s history. The new postulant, as well—Abbess Justina had serious reservations about the new postulant, Mary Benton. Vocations were so rare nowadays. She supposed it was possible they had, unwittingly, lowered the standards somewhat, allowing Mary to sneak past.
Still, what was clear was this: There was great change afoot at Monkbury Abbey. What was uncertain in Abbess Justina’s mind was whether all that change would prove to be for the good.
Copyright © 2014 by G. M. Malliet
Excerpted from A Demon Summer by G. M. Malliet. Copyright © 2015 G. M. Malliet. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's 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.
Table of Contents
Cast of Characters,
Part I: Matins,
Chapter 1: Abbess Justina,
Part II: Lauds,
Chapter 2: Max Tudor,
Chapter 3: Max and the Bishop,
Part III: Terce,
Chapter 4: Monkbury Abbey,
Chapter 5: The Portress,
Chapter 6: The Rule,
Part IV: Sext,
Chapter 7: The Visitors: I,
Chapter 8: The Visitors: II,
Chapter 9: There Was a Crooked Man,
Chapter 10: The Evil of Avarice,
Part V: None,
Chapter 11: In the Chapter House,
Chapter 12: The Kitcheness,
Chapter 13: The Librarian,
Chapter 14: The Infirmaress,
Chapter 15: The Abbess,
Chapter 16: The Novice,
Chapter 17: The Infirmary,
Chapter 18: The Abbess Genevieve,
Chapter 19: At the Altar,
Chapter 20: Darkness Falls,
Part VI: Vespers,
Chapter 21: Nighthawks,
Chapter 22: DCI Cotton,
Chapter 23: Suspicion ...,
Chapter 24: ... And Suspects,
Chapter 25: At the Cavalier,
Chapter 26: Dossiers,
Chapter 27: On Leaving the Abbey,
Chapter 28: At Nashbury Feathers,
Chapter 29: In Olden Days,
Chapter 30: The Cellaress,
Chapter 31: In Olden Days II,
Chapter 32: Spiral,
Chapter 33: The Orders of the Abbess,
Chapter 34: All the King's Horses,
Part VII: Compline,
Chapter 35: Max and the Correction of Minor Faults,
Chapter 36: Max and the Correction of Serious Faults,
Chapter 37: None So Blind,
Chapter 38: Ties That Bind,
Chapter 39: The Devil You Say,
Also by G. M. Malliet,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This superb series has covered all the seasons with this fourth book. It's an awesomely humorous and mysterious book that combines Agatha Christie, Louise Penny and Dan Brown----and Malliet mentions all three authors' works within this book so cleverly too. Former MI-5 operative Max Tutor, is called upon by his Bishop to travel to Monksbury Abby to check on some unusually financial issues with the records from the Handmaids of St Lucy nunnery. Max also finds himself investigating a suspicious fruitcake poisoning, while he's there. This mystery, though serious, is sparked throughout by such intellectual humor and brilliant connections to those other famous authors, it is unlike any other cozy series I've read recently. There are chapter heads that tell the rules of these Handmaids St Lucy, along with history of this lady. There is a clash between worldly ways and silent contemplation that adds much to the mystery. I would consider this a must read for any enthusiastic cozy readers!! I listened to a fabulous Audible version of this book which made something great into something extraordinary!!
One of my favorite books in my favorite village mystery series.
This books starts really slow in the first 200 or so pages. I was surprisingly bored and had a very hard time concentrating. The next almost 200 pages are just slightly better. The ending was fairly good but kind of clunky with the twists. I have really enjoyed her other books but not this one. My boredom may have to do with the lack of the normal interesting village characters and the setting and boring characters in this book. Also, I have been able to overlook the wonderful Max's character one flaw in other books: he comes across as not truly a believer and he is a Priest. However, I could not overcome this flaw in the setting in this book given his acceptance of a hand fasting ceremony with the sweet Awena. I also found this book's setting/plot similar to Louise Penny's excellent "Beautiful Mystery" which was a Beautiful mystery and Read.
This is not a cozy and constant refers to other authors has been done before inckuding twice by agatha christie and realky didnt work very well either since borrowed and read it is a two hour time filler for a rainy day and free of grafics and erotica i
As Louise Penny does in The Beautiful Mystery, G M Malliet sets the story in a religious stronghold. Malliet sets her story in a nunnery, while Penny set her story in a monastery. Both stories outline the simple life within the walls, and the difficulties that must be avoided. The livelihood of the group demands loss on individuality. Assigned positions remain for life or when the sister can no longer serve. These women live without telephones and televisions, and maintain periods of utter silence. I must admit that not many women are meant for this life of solitude and fortitude. All work and most provisions are found within the walls of this dormitory. Malliet introduces each chapter with one of the Orders rules. Malliet writes lightly of the trials and tribulations of the order of Saint Lucy, but the reader glimpses the undercurrent of a rigorous life. I missed the people from Nether Monkslip, as this latest Max Tudor book focuses on Monkbury Abbey and the Handmaids of Saint Lucy.
Something's rotten at the neighborhood nunnery. At least, that is what Vicar Max Tudor's bishop suspects. A member of the British aristocracy has suffered from food poisoning after eating a fruitcake from the nunnery. There's also an American couple who've donated major funds toward a building project, but there's no sign of work being done, and the nuns are closed-mouthed about where the donated money went. Max is sent to see if he can ferret out the truth. He's hoping to find the truth as quickly as possible, as the date for his marriage to the beautiful and heavily pregnant Awena Owen is near. Malliet skillfully interweaves the characters of the nuns, Father Max, and the currently residing visitors with a plot line that may seem to move slowly at times, but which reflects the frustration which Max finds in dealing with the nuns who are clearly not anxious to discuss any possible wrong doing on the part of the convent with him. The pace picks up after the murder of the aforementioned aristocrat, who for some mysterious reason had seen fit to visit the nunnery even after the incident of the poisoned fruitcake. There's a wonderful wrapping up scene in the penultimate chapter, in which Max takes a page out of Hercule Poirot's book, and addresses all of the characters who are possibly the murderer(s). Readers of Malliet's previous Father Max books will no doubt find the final chapter a delight to read, while those new to the series will no doubt want to read the previous books to find out more about Max and Awena. Highly recommended.