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Hallo again to all.

Here in the northern hemisphere we're more or less adrift in the silly season. No doubt all you in the southern half of our old world are deep in serious winter and are likely not silly. Silly or no, much of the world's attention is fixed on London where a little contest of games is going on, called the Olympics. We suspect that even an Anglican or two will find time to switch on the telly and have a look the trampoline competition. (We only learnt today that it is an Olympic sport.)

For us, though, we'll take mysteries over marathons any season, silly or no. Luckily, Anglicans can claim a robust contribution to that genre, both as writers and characters. 'The Moonstone', arguably considered the first detective novel, was written by Wilkie Collins, who was baptised at St Marylebone in London: thus we can claim him as our own. (That his somewhat irregular life following baptism might be considered un-Anglican isn't to the point here.) The Anglican-mystery trajectory from Collins continues briskly upward. What follows is a potted review, leaving out far more than it includes.

During the golden age of detective fiction, Anglicans held a prominent place, with innumerable books featuring murders at vicarages, in choir lofts, or bell towers. Agatha Christie, Michael Innes, and Edmund Crispin were skilful practitioners of the cozy detective story within a very recognizably Anglican context.

Dorothy Sayers, in her creation of Peter Wimsey, set a high bar for writers of detective fiction. Her mysteries are firmly anchored in an Anglican context, the characters are inimitable, the dialogue superb. More recently, PD James often has an Anglican location or a significant Anglican character in her justly admired, if occasionally bleak, corpus. Her main protagonist, Adam Dalgleish, is the son of an Anglican vicar.

Anglican mysteries generally centre round the parsonage, the village, or the places of 'the daily round, the common task'   — and not Lambeth Palace. We leave that to our Roman brothers and sisters, who specialize in mysteries and thrillers with a heavy dose of Vatican intrigue. See Malachi Martin, Dan Brown, et alia. (Thank goodness we Anglicans have no bank!) But the small locations and intimate settings have given birth to a wealth of wonderful mysteries.

We're fond of practitioners of the 1920 and 1930s — yes, that damned golden age again — with Michael Gilbert and Cyril Alington being particular favourites. Gilbert's 'Close Quarters' takes place in and round a cathedral and the edition we have features a splendid diagram of the close and its assorted buildings. (We delight at diagrams in mysteries, whether of the rooms in a country house, a cathedral close, or any other diagrammable location.)

Alington's works always include archdeacons — who ever thought of archdeacons as lead characters in anything? — and they're a sweet and occasionally bumbling pair, a sort of clerical Charters and Caldicott. 'Gold and Gaiters' is a particular favourite. (Gaiters! How could it not be?)  A snippet from an Allington novel of the 1950s includes this:

'Tricky things, hymns. Do you remember the architect who came to the opening ceremony of a church he'd built, and found the only hymns provided were How dreadful is this place and The powers of Hell have done their worst? He went home and cut his throat!'

'I wish all architects were equally sensitive," said the Archdeacon; "there'd have been a heavy mortality among Victorian church restorers!' 

Now we ask you: Could there be anything more gently, quaintly, picturesquely Anglican than this? Noir it is not, and we're quite fine with that.

Moving toward more recent works, there are on the American side of the pond several well regarded writers of Anglican mysteries, including Julia Spencer Fleming and Kate Charles. Another Kate, Kate Gallinson, set a series of mysteries involving clerics and badly behaving bishops in her own diocese in New Jersey. Heading across the pond again, we're happy to make the acquaintance of James Runcie (yes, that Runcie), whose inaugural mystery — Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death — has launched a series called The Grantchester Mysteries. A purpose-built website and video explain all.

A quite splendid website devoted to Clerical Detectives will open a treasure box for those who fancy them. The proprietor of the site has rather mingled Roman Catholic and Anglican-Episcopal detectives, so you'll need to check out the credentials of the character who interests you, unless you're a determined detective ecumenist. (A few other denominations are represented, along with the occasional Buddhist, but statistically, they aren't of much moment.)

Meanwhile, back to Grantchester. We're delighted to welcome the Reverend Sidney Chambers, the newest member of a long and honourable line of clerical detectives. We find it ever so fitting that he calls Grantchester home. Rupert Brooke, in that eponymous poem (large portions of which, we're embarrassed to say, we can still recite from memory), includes these lines:

And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissome, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean ...

In the sultry heat at the end of July, we're off to a hammock with a Pimm's cup and an Anglican mystery. Perhaps a rural dean will be seen skulking in our garden. Who needs the Olympics?

By the way — popping briefly back in the door before we head out again — have you a favourite Anglican mystery writer or mystery? Let us know. We'll start a roster.)

See you next week.

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29 July 2012

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