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by C.C. Benison
Doubleday Canada, November 2012
476 pages
$29.95 CAD
ISBN: 038567015X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Despite the title's reference to the Christmas carol, this second in CC Benison's series starring the Reverend Tom Christmas begins at another celebration, the annual Robert Burns Night Supper, and ends with yet a third, the Devon homage to the apple tree, the Wassail. Tom Christmas is beginning feel settled in the village of Thornford Regis, a village that has provided him a place to heal following the as yet unsolved murder of his wife two years ago. He is installed in a rather grand vicarage, along with his young daughter Miranda and a housekeeper, Mrs Prowse, an excellent cook. He is delighted to pronounce the traditional grace at the Burns Supper, though dreading the mandatory encounter with the haggis. But his peace of mind is soon disturbed when Will Moir, the owner of the inn where the Burns dinner is taking place, turns up very dead, apparently of natural causes, but before long, rumours of poison begin to circulate.

If someone had said to me, "I have just the book for you - it's set in a wee Devon village under a blanket of snow and has a central character named Father Christmas, vicar of St Nicholas, and two policemen named Blessing and Bliss," I would have smiled sweetly and said it would really have to wait until I finished re-reading the collected works of Ken Bruen. And I would have been wrong.

Despite Benison's almost relentless devotion to the paraphernalia of the village cosy, ELEVEN PIPERS is at its heart a serious and moving novel. Tom Christmas, though more or less cast in the role of amateur detective, is a most reluctant recipient of the various confidences that come his way as a result of his profession. There are things about his parishioners he'd rather not know, not that that stops them from sharing. He is a man of faith, but not pious; he was, after all, a professional magician in earlier days. He has not recovered from the violent end visited on his wife and he is doing his best to bring up his small daughter in a way that honours her - even to the extent of arranging her Jewish education, her mother's religion. Though he never abandons his moral compass, he is never judgmental when confronted by the failings of the village residents.

The secrets that come to light in the course of the investigation into Will's death and its aftermath are adult and tragic and present a grave challenge to Tom Christmas both personally and in his role as priest. The assorted characters are fully developed and, even when comic, very far from two-dimensional. Benison has a gentle wit that keeps the proceedings from becoming too grim, though he does occasionally carry on with a joke longer than absolutely desirable. But most of all, he writes with grace and care, and the respect that he brings to his material requires us to respect it as well.

Lovers of cosies will find much to enjoy here, but so will those who view the genre with suspicion. CC Benison is the pseudonym of Doug Whiteway, a Canadian journalist living in Winnipeg, whose DEATH AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE won the Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel in 1997. The English village mystery has a long and honourable history - and it's delightful to see that the torch has been passed from its native land to the safe hands of a pair of Canadians - CC Benison and Alan Bradley.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, November 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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