This is the third and final instalment in the Roth Trilogy, Andrew Taylor’s answer to The Norman Conquests. OK, feeble joke, but I’m feeling a little gloomy, as Taylor surely intended. Honestly, this guy and Denise Mina between them have driven me back into the ever-welcoming arms of Angela Thirkell. Don’t they know they’re writing escapist fiction?
The Roth Trilogy works like the Ayckbourn trilogy in that it doesn’t matter which one comes first. Chronology is not Taylor‘s major concern, since the seminal evil deed (the death of a baby) appears to have taken place in 1904. Taylor’s very good at structure: the revelation comes just two pages before the end of The Office of the Dead. It is true that there is one earlier and very creepy death that links up with The Four Last Things, the first book in the series. Most of the book, though, is a series of ominous foreshadowings. It’s set in a Tim Burton version of a cathedral close, Trollope (or Thirkell) for the 21st century. The narrator, Wendy Appleyard, is recently separated from her philandering husband. She goes to visit her old school friend Janet Byfield in the cathedral town of Rosington. The household also includes the handsome priest David Byfield, Janet’s father Mr. Treevor, and the alarming daughter Rosemary. Mr. Treevor may be molesting Rosie. David prefers church politics to his family. There is no money, but the family lives in a clerical residence known as “The Dark Hostelry.” (A detail that’s slightly clunky for Taylor.) When mutilated animals start showing up, my interest wanes somewhat, I admit. Oh, for some sweetness and light!