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by G.M. Malliet
Minotaur Books, October 2014
400 pages
ISBN: 1250021413

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Summoned to the Bishop's office, Father Max Tudor finds himself searching for a way to tell his supervisor about his and his decidedly non-traditional upcoming nuptials and to break the news to him about the child he and his neo-pagan fiancée are expecting. But the Bishop has other things on his mind: Lord Lislelivet, a unlikable and greedy man, recently fell ill at the Handmaids of St. Lucy of Monkbury Abbey after eating their famous and lucrative fruitcakes. While Lord Lislelivet's newfound interest in the abbey is confusing to all involved, not least of all to his wife, his title and the swirling rumors about possible financial malfeasance compel the normally hands-off Bishop to send Max to Monkbury Abbey to see just what is going on with its ultra-traditional order.

Upon arriving at the Abbey, Max is taken in by the hospitality of the sisters and the refreshing simplicity of their lifestyle, but wisely maintains an aversion to consuming any of the abbey-grown berries that may have poisoned the Earl. Having escaped from life as a MI5 agent prior to becoming a vicar, Max understands better than most that many people commit their life to the church not only out of devotion, but also to escape a previous existence. In addition to the sisters who run the abbey, Max encounters several visitors including Lord Lislelivet, as well as a wealthy American family bankrolling the abbey that is getting suspicious at the lack of promised renovations that their generous contributions are supposed to be funding. Before Max can make much of the situation, Lord Lislelivet is found dead in the cloister well and his exploratory mission to see if anything was amiss at the abbey, quickly thrusts Max into the midst of a murder investigation with his by now frequent colleague, DCI Cotton.

Max and Cotton quickly find that no one, not even Lady Lislelivet, is too heart-broken over the death of the Earl, but there are no obvious suspects and, suspicions about individual nuns preferring to keep their pasts hidden aside, it seems a stretch to consider any of them a likely murderer. While Max is away from the colorful community of Nether Monkslip for basically the entire book, their presence is felt throughout thanks to the author who has provided comic relief in earlier books. Frank Cuthbert's Wherefore Nether Monkship, has become an unlikely smash and may be leading some of the abbey's more unlikely visitors into a quixotic treasure hunt at the storied abbey.

In many ways, A DEMON SUMMER has the set-up and construction of a traditional mystery, but it manages to avoid the pitfalls that all too often mark the "cozy" genre. As I noted in my review of last year's PAGAN SPRING, it is clear that Malliet is growing as a writer and is getting more adventurous with each volume. While the series has always had a cutting edge of humor, that humor is becoming increasingly incisive and meaningful and not just a way to relieve the dire events in the book. In this latest entry, Malliet makes several references in both direct and subtle ways to its influences with ample allusions to the work of Louise Penny and Leonard Cohen, while still employing conventions of the genre that are sure to delight fans of Agatha Christie.

While the titular circle of seasons that started with 2010's WICKED AUTUMN is now complete and Max's personal life is finally somewhat settled by the end of A DEMON SUMMER, Malliet says there's at least one more Max Tudor mystery on the way and this reviewer is delighted at the prospect. Malliet has progressively shown herself to be a growing writer and a series that started as well-crafted throwbacks to the golden age but not much more has slowly transformed into a series that still pays homage to the traditional British mystery but has developed into a series that is more reminiscent of Louise Penny than of the usual cozy.

§ Ben Neal is a librarian who likes to fancy himself an amateur writer, humorist, detective, and coffee connoisseur in his spare time. He can be reached at beneneal@indiana.edu.

Reviewed by Ben Neal, October 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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