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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

"The Unburied" by Charles Palliser

A Victorian murder mystery with an air of ghostliness.

Dr Edward Courtine, academic historian, goes to Thurchester Cathedral to stay with Austin Frickling, someone he knew as an acquaintance when they were undergraduates together twenty years ago but whom he hasn't seen since then because Austin somehow betrayed him and caused his wife to leave him. Whilst at the Cathedral, Dr Courtine searches for a new manuscript which he hopes will explain how Alfred the Great was involved with the Cathedral's history. There are also two more historical mysteries: how and why ean Freeth was killed during the Civil War and what happened to Cathedral Mason John Gambrill  who disappeared after killing William Burgoyne some years before the Freeth killing.

And then Courtine gets involved in his own murder mystery.

This book, therefore, is multi-layered: three historical mysteries, the mystery about Courtine's marriage and one modern murder. This makes it difficult to follow. And Dr Courtine is a reassuringly Watson-like figure, wrongly interpreting every single fact.

But of all the stories, the reader is most engaged with the present-day murder and most wants to solve that. And here I was disappointed. The book starts with an "Editor's Foreword" in which the editor (not Courtine whose narrative provides the bulk of the story) visits an old woman who had once been an actress and talks about the performance she gave, the performance of her life. This gives a huge clue which makes the modern mystery relatively easy to interpret despite the attempt of the author to strew red herrings in the reader's path from the rather transparent bumblings of Courtine and the utterly comical interpretations of the Superintendent. And, of course, any closed community of men and choirboys is expected to have its seamy side in today's literature.

There is a lot to celebrate in this book with its invocation of December mists in a haunted Cathedral Close but the story would have been better with fewer layers and more mystery to the ones left.

October 2015; 387 pages


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