RogerBW's Blog

Murder in a Cathedral, Ruth Dudley Edwards 27 September 2019

1997 mystery, seventh in the Robert Amiss series. "Jack" Troutbeck enlists Amiss to help the new but unworldly Bishop of Westonbury as his chapter suffers a rift between the high church gay traditionalists and the intolerant evangelical new dean. Murder is also involved.

As in Ten Lords a-Leaping, Dudley Edwards makes it clear that there is a right side and a wrong side to be on; but also as in that book, the right side is largely ineffectual, needing Troutbeck or at least Amiss to sort them out.

The problem for me is that around the time this book is set I knew quite a few of the high church gay traditionalists always on the edge of "going over to Rome", whom Dudley Edwards is parodying here, and they didn't act anything like these people. They didn't have flamboyant and blatantly gay-focused articles of worship as part of the church's decorations; they took the perfectly good high church style of imagery that already existed, and used that, often with excessive ornamentation but still in keeping with that style. They didn't go round trying to pick up random visitors; they usually managed to have a curate or similar "friend" whom everyone knew about but nobody fussed over. Basically, they weren't driven by their gonads anything like as much as the parodies here. That's aside from most of the people in the book being the sort of mincing queen stereotype that calls all their gay male friends by female names – which I don't think has ever been at all usual, even among the sort of gay man who wasn't having to pass himself off as something else.

And on the other side… well, I suppose Dudley Edwards was unaware of the gradations among the happy-clappy side of things, though one might think she might have done some research. The example of a service drifts around in a vague stylistic cloud encompassing standard American Baptist and evangelical-charismatic, while never mentioning the Jesus Army which was still going fairly strong in the UK in those days – or the desperate opposition to abortion and women's rights in general which had become just as much a plank of American evangelicalism at this point as was opposition to homosexuality and black people. All right, I know a bit more about these things than most people because I take an interest in this particular brand of twisted psychology (they started it by trying to take away my role-playing games), but I feel strongly about getting the details right; if you just want to feed people's prejudices, tell your unfunny stories down the pub rather than committing them to print.

Anyway. Rant over. In spite of these problems, the actual story is pretty decent; various assaults happen, some of them fatal, some of them perhaps accidental, and one can gradually reduce the possible reasons and thus the pool of suspects. Dudley Edwards may care more about her parodies than about the murder plot, but the latter is still well-served, and the personalities matter to the plot rather than being incidental.

Though one does feel that the chapter is sadly depleted by the end of the book, and one wonders what might happen next in Westonbury.

Series recommended by Gus.

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See also:
Ten Lords A-Leaping, Ruth Dudley Edwards

Previous in series: Ten Lords A-Leaping | Series: Robert Amiss | Next in series: Publish and be Murdered

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