At least one head rolls in clergyman/detective Max Tudor’s fifth seasonally themed case.
The country parish of Nether Monkslip is embroiled in drama, from church flower–rota skirmishes to the power plays of St. Edwold’s Women’s Institute. Maxen Tudor, formerly of MI5 and now vicar of St. Edwold’s, is the object of much of the maneuvering. Extraordinarily handsome but quite unaware of it, and happily married to Welsh New Ager Awena Owen, he has no idea how devoted some of his parishioners are to him. With a baby at home and pressing clerical duties, Max doesn’t have much time to ponder either the women’s jostlings or St. Edwold’s recently manifested miracle: the image of a bearded man that refuses to be painted over. Although Max has hired the Rev. Destiny Chatsworth, a friend and fellow theologian at Oxford, to help with the neighboring parishes in his care, he still has his hands full with such delicate tasks as persuading the local nobility to permit the annual autumn wind-up duck race on their property. Lord Bayer Baaden-Boomethistle of Totleigh Hall agrees reluctantly. He’s distracted by his beautiful young second wife, who may be dallying with the virile estate manager; Peregrine, his wayward heir; Peregrine’s frustrated sister; and the dowager viscountess, a dotty romance novelist. Walking his dog in the woods, Max discovers Baaden-Boomethistle’s head, severed from his body by a carefully placed piano wire. Village suspicion falls on the widow, and Destiny, not given to malicious gossip, recalls a conversation she overheard in the steam room about an anonymous Nether Monkslip woman planning a hit on her husband. With his regular partner, DCI Cotton, Max takes on parental secrets, a treasure horde, a garden temple, and his all-too-prophetic dreams about a sinister man in a pair of unusual glasses who may send murder-magnet Max (A Demon Summer, 2014, etc.) down another path.
Uneven tone, voice, and pacing don’t seriously hamper Malliet’s enjoyable blend of whimsy and homicide.