Murder Before Evensong (2022) by Richard Coles

Canon Daniel Clement has been the rector of Champton, living with his fearsome mother Audrey and his dachshunds Cosmo and Hilda. Life is generally peaceful in the village, with the most exciting and controversial thing to worry the populace being Daniel’s plan to install a toilet in the church. But things aren’t going to stay calm forever…

When Anthony Bowness, cousin to the patron of Champton, is found dead in the church, stabbed in the neck by a pair of secateurs, it is only the beginning of the trouble. When a second body appears and the police seem clueless, it falls to Daniel to save his community by finding the killer in their midst.

So we come to Round Two of well-loved British celebrities with dark hair and glasses called Richard writing cosy mystery novels. For my overseas readers who might be unaware, Richard Coles has had a varied career, from a member of Bronski Beat and the Communards, to the vicar of Finedon, via a multitude of TV and radio appearances, whilst inspiring the lead character in the sitcom Rev and Tom in the Bridget Jones novels. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s written a mystery novel.

It’s pretty obvious that Coles has drawn on his own life experiences to create Daniel – the natural image in my head when reading it was Coles himself. The book is set in the eighties – with enough real-life events mentioned that you can date it to the exact days – but really all that does is cut out mentions of cell-phones, it’s a fairly timeless tale really. But as a mystery, is it any good?

Now you may recall, I wasn’t completely thrilled with the other Richard’s debut – it was fine, but as a mystery, it was lacking in those pesky clue things. Of course, thanks to my mildly sniffy review, the book plummeted into obscurity, never to be mentioned again. So I don’t think I’m going to do this Richard any harm by being mildly sniffy once again.

It’s a well-written book. The text is light-hearted and intelligent and, in case you were worried, it’s not preachy. Yes, Daniel’s faith is important to the story but there’s no lectures to the reader on the wonders of the Trinity. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in here, and Coles has written a very readable book with good central characters in Daniel and his mother. The plot trundles along nicely with an interesting pair of murders to mull over. There is also a bit of dark humour, such as the dogs discovering the corpse in the church.

But the clueing isn’t really there. For the second book in a row, the clue that makes it all click for Daniel is visual. It all ties together well enough although the motives for the two killings don’t gel as well as they might have. There’s also a few too many characters – a dramatis personae might have helped.

So, all in all, it’s not perfect, but it’s an enjoyable read with enough potential for the future – given it’s billed as “A Canon Clement Mystery”, I’m guessing there’ll be more to come…

Murder Before Evensong is published today in hardback and ebook. Many thanks to the publishers for the e-copy.

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