A Demon Summer is the 4th book from G.M. Malliet to feature Max Tudor, vicar of St. Edwold’s Church in the town of Nether Monkslip, England.
Max Tudor is a former MI5 agent turned vicar, who showed up in the small town of Nether Monkslip to turn many a female head. He is attractive, charismatic, and extremely intelligent. Due to his background and former profession, he is frequently involved in murders that take place in the area, helping DCI Cotton solve the most baffling cases.
Max’s arrival in the village some years before had electrified the female population of Nether Monkslip, for Father Max Tudor was everything they could have wished for: kind and decent (basic requirements, of course, for a vicar), handsome and youngish (both huge bonuses), rumored to be a former MI5 agent (so daring and mysterious!), and most of all, unattached and, to all appearances, available. A lamp ripe for sacrifice on the marital alter.
The women got busy, either throwing themselves at his feet or pushing their nieces, daughters, and best friends at his feet. Church attendance skyrocketed, along with volunteerism for the little chores that needed doing around the church—cleaning the brass and silver, preparing the vessels for the Eucharistic services—that might bring them into closer proximity with Max.
But Max remained steadfastly uninterested. Oddly oblivious to the frenzy of self-sacrifice and do-goodery he had unleashed. Perhaps he thought it mere coincidence that the St. Edwold’s Altar Guild suddenly had more helpers than it could accommodate, all of them female, and all of them jostling for a slot in the rotation. The church flower rota became a free-for-all, with the altar bouquets growing more grandiose and extravagant with each passing week.
Max is pulled away from his cozy life in Nether Monkslip by the Bishop, and is asked to do a little investigating at, of all places, an Abbey. The sisters of the Order of the Handmaids of St. Lucy at Monkbury Abbey seem to need his assistance. For one thing, there are rumors of some discrepancies in the books. As if this weren’t enough, there’s been a poisoning. The nuns at Monkbury have several different income streams that supplement donations to the Abbey, one of them being the sale of their famous fruitcake. One of these fruitcakes was found to contain poisonous berries and, although there were no casualties, Lord Lislelivet was hospitalized and the whole affair has proven most distressing.
Max arrives at the abbey and stays at the guest house with several other visitors (some on religious pilgrimage), including a wealthy American couple and their daughter, a photographer, an art gallery owner, and Lord Lislelivet, the victim of the aforementioned poisoned fruitcake. As Max chats with each of the sisters and guests (we won’t say interviews them, since he is ex-MI5) he starts to piece together information and uncover things that certain people are trying to hide—both the nuns and the guests. One of the things that Max uncovers is that there is a rumor that the abbey houses more than old stones and ancient customs.
“A treasure hunt. It has been rumored that something is buried in the abbey precincts, something of incalculable value. Something Holy Grail-ish. There’s some book just come out that’s sparked a renewed interest. The nuns will have their hands full as it is, dealing with the fortune hunters flocking to their gates. Combine that with poisoned fruitcake and missing charitable donations and they’ve got a perfect storm of trouble.”
“Holy Grail?” Max repeated. “You are kidding me, right?” It was so—what? So feudal, so archaic. Max could almost feel the centuries begin to dissolve around him. The electric candles in the vicarage seemed to shape-shift into rushlights as he stood incongruously clutching a telephone, his spare modern garb transformed into the long folds of a cleric of the middle ages.
While Max is at the abbey conducting his inquiries, Lord Lislelivet is found dead. What started as a failed poisoning has turned to murder and it is even more necessary for Max to get to the bottom of things. When DCI Cotton arrives, Max is able to catch him up to speed and assist in the investigation. He is more helpful to the police than he has ever been in the past. Not only was he present when the crime occurred, but the church is his realm, and who better to assist and act as liaison?
The characters that G.M. Malliet creates are always a highlight for me. This was a bit of a change from the previous books, as they have been primarily set in the town of Nether Monkslip and contain the usual suspects of the village. In this book, we got to meet several new characters, which really opened up a long list of who might have done the dirty deed. It’s a different situation when you go in suspecting everyone. Well…..almost everyone. It was also intriguing to read a semi-closed universe mystery. Not quite a locked room, but similar to a snowed in manor house type story. The reader is able to concentrate on the location and the characters while sequestered at the abbey, and feel like they are present along with Max.
A marvel of medieval construction surrounded by a wide river, Monkbury Abbey clung to the craggy, steep mountainside like a walled castle of the Languedoc, to which it may well have owed its inspiration. It was difficult to tell what was rock and what was building.
An evening mist rose from the river at the mountain’s base, enveloping the bottom, so that the abbey seemed to float suspended against a turquoise sky shot through with copper. Greenery grew nearly to the summit of the walled precinct; a narrow road could be glimpsed winding to the top like a swirl of soft ice cream. A cruciform church with Norman tower was the crowning glory; from there the abbey buildings tumbled higgledy-piggledy down the hill, clinging to the sides until they came to stone wall. This plunged straight into the river like the long train of a lady’s skirt.
Max thought, smiling to himself, that the only possible word for the nunnery was “impregnable.”
The small town, traditional mystery is one of my favorite genres. This book is a combination of characters and plot, rather than heavily weighted on just one of the two elements. Malliet is a master storyteller and creates memorable characters that I, as a reader, look forward to visiting in each installment.
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Kerry Hammond has been an avid mystery reader ever since she discovered Nancy Drew at the age of 8. She enjoys all types of stories, from thrillers to cozies to historical mysteries.