In the diocese of Canterbury Cathedral, onetime intelligence officer Richard Harrison, who now serves as overseer of building maintenance, lives quietly with wheelchair-bound wife Winnie. Returning from a holiday in Italy, he meets a disquieting reception—newly installed Archdeacon Cawthorne is on a budget- cutting rampage and proposes, among other things, to banish ailing ex-rector Tom Dove and wife Joyce from the home they'd been promised would be theirs for life. Also awaiting Harrison's return is Rachel Miller—an American whose father David, a retired lawyer and antiques expert who had only months to live, has apparently committed suicide after coming to Canterbury to see Harrison, leaving an uninformative message on his phone tape. Bewildered at first, Harrison soon realizes that many years ago Miller was Muller—his wartime interpreter and staff-sergeant in Berlin—a young Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. Rachel gives Harrison an envelope, scrawled with a list of names, that was found in her father's pocket, putting in motion a stream of questions that involve wartime clerical resistance fighters, secret family ties, a pair of porcelain figurines, churchwarden Ruth Hodge, diocesan architect George Davidson, the seeming suicide of Tom Dove, and a series of wrenching moral decisions Harrison must make as answers are found. Plotting that's original and inventive but numbingly complex, plus an overload of dim minor characters and a ponderously wordy style—all make for a disappointing follow-up to the author's well- received debut novel (The Becket Factor, 1991).
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