Twenty-five years before Michael Appleyard’s daughter was kidnapped in The Four Last Things (1997), the pre-teen Michael spent the summer of 1970 visiting his godfather David Byfield, the vicar of Roth. Michael wasn’t to know that the events of the summer, David’s first with his second wife, publisher Vanessa Forde, would run the gamut from adultery to drug dealing to madness to murder, all evidently presided over by the ghost of the Rev. Francis Youlgreave, the mad poet-priest who communed with dark powers and mutilated animals before he was carried to his grave beneath the vicarage chancel. Writing from the lusty, repressed vicar’s point of view, Taylor cloaks all the horrid doings in prose as stately and deliberate as Dorothy Sayers’s in The Nine Tailors: —The first time I kissed Joanna was late in the afternoon of Monday, 24th August.— Yet despite portentous foreshadowing out of the Had-I-But-Known school and endless episodes of kissus interruptus, the sense of foul menace mounts to a fine frenzy as David dallies with bored newcomer Joanna Clifford, outraged tearoom historian Audrey Oliphant mourns her beheaded cat, and the villagers punctuate their preparations for the climactic village fete by speculating about what might have happened to village doyenne Lady Youlgreave, mad Francis’s horribly dead niece. A superior village mystery that whets the appetite for the promised third volume.