G.M. Malliet made a splash with her St. Just mysteries, winning the Agatha Award for the first one, Death of a Cozy Writer. Now, with Wicked Autumn, she introduces a new series featuring Max Tudor, an MI5 agent turned Anglican priest. It’s a must read for anyone who loves traditional English village mysteries. Malliet’s book calls to mind the best of Julia Spencer-Fleming, Louise Penny, and Agatha Christie, but Malliet’s style and story is all her own.
Max Tudor escaped his former life after a tragedy, turning to the priesthood and the idyllic southern English village of Nether Monkslip. But even an English Eden has a snake hidden, a killer who destroyed the woman who appeared to be invincible, Wanda Batton-Smythe. There were a number of villagers who were terrified of the indomitable figure who ruled the Woman’s Institute with an iron grip. And, the annual Harvest Fayre brought out the worst in Wanda, her need for power and control, and her willingness to pick on the weakest people. But, was there someone who hated Wanda enough to kill her, taking advantage of her one weakness?
It’s only when Max realizes that the village will never be the same that the two sides of his personality come together. He is still the compassionate vicar who comforts the grieving and visits the villagers. At the same time, the qualities that made him an excellent agent are important in assisting the police with the investigation, “his dogged temperament, fierce curiosity, and need to pursue justice.” “Here was a new case, a wrong to be righted. A problem to be solved. A villain to be outwitted. A blight on the village to be eradicated.” Max Tudor is the perfect detective for this case.
Like Penny, Maillet focuses on duality in her mystery. In Max' experience, "People...were always a combination of good and bad, of wisdom and foolishness." Max, himself, has two different lives, and they come together in this book, as he searches for a killer who doesn't appear to be evil.
Malliet pays homage to the village mysteries of the past, but she brings it up to date. Her characters are well-developed, more than the stereotypes in many village mysteries. Of course, Max Tudor is not the typical vicar.
Then, there's the character of Awena Owen, the owner of Goddessspell, the village's New Age shop, whose beliefs and faith are a marked contrast to Max'. Their conversations are lively and thoughtful. DCI Cotton is not a bumbling investigator. He's a shrewd officer who teams up with Tudor. And, the village doctor is not stupid. Nether Monkslip might be an idyllic, English village, but it's one set firmly in the 21st century as some of the villagers do quite well expanding their businesses via the Internet.
I’m sure I missed some of Malliet’s sly comments, although any reader who loves Pride and Prejudice will appreciate the nod to that book with the introduction to Max Tudor. “For it was a truth universally acknowledged that a single vicar must be in want of a wife.” It’s one more way the author sets her latest mystery firmly in the English countryside. And, Malliet is unlikely to make the mistake of killing too many people in the same village. Fortunately, Max Tudor is vicar over two neighboring villages as well.
Wicked Autumn is a traditional mystery in the best sense of the word. It’s a book to be savored. G.M. Malliet’s use of language, setting, and character all encourage the reader to linger over the book. It’s a joy to observe a master at work.
G.M. Malliet's website is www.gmmalliet.com
Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet. St. Martin's Minotaur. ©2011. ISBN 9780312646974 (hardcover), 256p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy, hoping I would review the book.