Pagan Spring by G. M. Malliet is the third book in the Max Tudor traditional mystery series (available October 8, 2013).
In the third installment of the Max Tudor series, our namesake hero is starting to get a little weary of bringing murderers to justice. After all, he retired from MI5 and entered the church because he was looking to solve problems of a much less deadly nature, even if those problems are often just as serious to the people involved. Now that he’s solved two murders since his arrival at Nether Monkslip, he’s quite content to focus on tending to his flock, expanding his priestly influence and being in (discreet, or so he believes,) love with Awena Owen, the unconventional owner of the local New Age shop. Nether Monkslip isn’t the kind of town to find joy in violent deaths either, much preferring to focus on occurrences as benignly exciting as the achievements of the local writer’s group, the opening of a trendy new restaurant and the return of a native son who made good on the London stage.
But then, of course, another murderer strikes. The local police inspector, DCI Cotton, trusts Max’s instincts, having worked with him on the previous murders. Others aren’t as enthused by Max’s involvement, or so he fears. When Max is summoned to meet the local bishop soon after news of the latest murder breaks, he braces himself for a dressing down, on either this subject or his relationship with the decidedly un-Anglican Awena. Fortunately for him, the interview goes much better than expected, at least on the murder front:
With the exquisite timing for which the man was famous, the bishop turned, just as Max was beginning to relax, and said, “We can’t have any more of this, Max. Whatever is going on, you have to get to the bottom of it. Root it out, as it were. With your special skills, you should be of invaluable assistance to the police. I wonder,” he added softly, after an appraising glance at Max. “I wonder… Has it ever occured to you God may have brought you to Nether Monkslip for a purpose? For this purpose?”
Max could think of no reply. It seemed to him a highly doubtful hypothesis. On later reflection, he would find he didn’t much care for the idea, for didn’t it mean more people might be murdered in Nether Monkslip?
Given the go-ahead, Max races to solve the crime before the perpetrator can strike again. Along the way, he uncovers more secrets than he ever suspected might be hidden by the inhabitants of such a quiet village, including one that dates back decades to the horrors of World War II.
While I greatly enjoy how the gentle humor of the Max Tudor series serves as deft counterpoint to the murders each book revolves around, a large part of the appeal, to me, lies in the more serious contemplation of religion, mortality and, most of all, love. Max’s remarkable background allows for diverse episodes to be contrasted to excellent effect, such as when he considers the power of his feelings for Awena:
In his undercover days, Max had on several occasions pretended to be married. The pretense had helped him avoid tricky situations where he was being invited to party with the bad guys. He’d often been tested but had found that establishing the rules early on made his later refusals believable. The worst criminals had instantly understood when he said he loved his wife, a fact that had astonished Max every time it happened. They would not have believed him if he’s claimed ethical scruples, of course, but love was the great universal, even for men who dealt in piping the sewage of terrorism into the country.
Of course, the path of true love never did run smooth, but I finished the book confident in Max and Awena’s integrity and mutual devotion. I suppose that really means that I’m confident in G. M. Malliet’s ability to tell a thoughtful, nuanced story, though I am hoping that the next book in the series has more from Suzanna Winship and DCI Cotton (I am not above saying I ship this pair.) It’s almost a shame that murder pretty much has to be a part of the equation, though Ms Malliet handles these cozy mysteries with intelligence and a keen sensitivity to what would drive a soul to such extreme lengths. It’s always nice to read a mystery novel that makes you care as much for the supporting cast as it does for those directly involved.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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