Non-Xmas Xmas book

The special CiB meme ‘Xmas scenes from books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’ is back!

Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page. You’d think I’d be running out of Xmas books and scenes by now, but far from it – I have to begin this feature earlier in December each year. More ideas still welcome in the comments. (If it’s a particularly good choice I will ditch one of the ones I have ready and give you credit…)



Arrest the Bishop? by Winifred Peck

published 1949

set in 1920



Non Xmas Arrest the Bishop 4


[Dinner at the Bishop’s Palace]

At the head of the table, the Bishop’s pallid face, finely moulded and set in those tragic St Joseph lines, seemed carved in marble, and lifeless as his predecessors on the Cathedral tombs.

Non Xmas Arrest the Bishop

Staples, the other candidate for the priesthood besides Dick, and the six who would on Sunday discard their shabby tweed coats or worn uniforms for very precise new clerical clothes, were all of them, chubby or lean, keen or vacuous, like mere pictures on a wall. Even Mrs Broome seemed to lose her warm jovial personality as she presided, in the long black satin gown after the fashion of statelier days: Sue in a wispy dress of pale grey seemed a shadow. Only Judith in a long yellow tea-gown, swinging back a priceless ermine cape and perfect pearls a little impatiently, was radiantly awake and alive.



Non Xmas Arrest the Bishop 3Non Xmas Arrest 2

commentary: Arrest the Bishop has all the trappings of a great Christmas mystery. The author has a track record in fiction – including the splendid non-crime story Bewildering Cares, featured earlier this year on the blog. A very funny writer. A carefully-imagined setting in a large house full of potential suspects – even better, it is a Bishop’s Palace. Set 30 years before it was written. Snow all over, stopping people moving around as much as they would like, and home to footprints. No-one can move outside without others knowing. The victim isn’t much missed, and was such a bad lot that everyone has a motive for murder.

HOWEVER, we are told clearly that it is Christmas, and December is mentioned. And that is it: Christmas doesn’t feature in the plot at all, the author seems to forget the opportunities that Christmas should be presenting. I don’t think there’s even any Christmas or pre-Christmas services amongst all the church-y goings-on. Disappointing, and a missed opportunity.

But still a good fun read, and appropriate for the time of year: the ideal book for a cold afternoon. Peck is very funny, as I said above: I liked the man reading out to the assembled worthies who has to quickly skip a bit of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress because it is too rude. And the horrible Chief Constable, Major Mack, who ‘felt it most improbable that a layman and a lawyer could be so guilty of so sordid a crime’ – so it must be a clergyman, and he is very suspicious of their going off to the chapel to pray.

Peck in general is quite disrespectful of the clergy, and one of the nicest characters, the ditsy Judith, is plainly and unashamedly immoral: the book features the strange divorce laws of the era, which we also saw in the historical strand of Sarra Manning’s House of Secrets recently, and further back in real time in Evelyn Waugh and Dorothy L Sayers. (And will feature again, oddly enough, in another Christmas entry – the weird rules were particularly difficult for divided couples at Xmas…)

Judith makes much of her luggage being searched - ‘all my frillies’ (a welcome nod to the regular blog feature Dress Down Sunday, which has been suspended for the duration of the festive season) – and likes teasing and tormenting the searchers. So that later when discussing clothes she can say ‘most luckily I’ve got a dream of a grey georgette I’ve never worn – you remember it, Major Mack?’ I have no higher compliment than this: Judith could easily fit into Georgette Heyer’s Envious Casca, to my mind the best and funniest Xmas mystery ever. There are also shades of the Angela Thirkell books so enjoyed here on the blog.

I’m delighted to say that there is a clergyman with Doubts, a matter that always intrigues me in old novels – as for example in Mrs Gaskell’s North and South, discussed here.

I didn’t have the slightest difficulty in solving the crime: because of detection work on my part, but also involving psychic intuition, for a reason I cannot reveal without spoilering. But that didn’t for one moment reduce my pleasure in the book.

The clothes (probably rather grand for the country clergy) are from 1919/20.












Comments

  1. Well, bang goes some of my Xmas money...This does look right up my street, though-- good detective story, nice sense of humour. The lack of Xmas content doesn't bother me too much, either, as by the time that I read it we will all be fed up of Xmas spirit for another twelve months! Your review is perfectly timed for me, as outside of my wndow as I type this is a lot of snow. A lot of snow. In fact everything has ground to a halt. This is real Christmas weather.

    ggary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The snow keeps just missing us, with 10-minute flurries - though plenty of it not far away. I feel guilty for wishing it would snow more - I like it, but know it disrupts life. But as I can't affect the outcome with my wishes, I will continue to hope for snow!
      I think you will enjoy this book - I found it tremendous fun.

      Delete
  2. It is true that so many mysteries set at Christmas kind of ignore the seasonal events. And I do enjoy some mention of some festivities, even if they don't relate to the story. I am not familiar with this author, I love all the images you chose for the post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Tracy, I do like some mention of Christmas, and the festivities should lend themselves to criminal activity. But this was good fun anyway, and I had such a good time finding the dresses!

      Delete
  3. I'd have sworn I commented on this post, Moira. Hmmmm...apparently not. At any rate, it sounds like a very enjoyable read, and I'm glad you liked it. I do like wit in a story, and it sounds as though there's an interesting lens held up to the society of the times.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No-one could ever accuse you of not doing your blogroll Margot - you are such an inspiration and mentor to us all! I hope you realize how much I (and everyone else) appreciate your efforts.
      And yes the book is a fun read, perfect for a cold Christmas-y afternoon on the sofa...

      Delete
  4. I have this on my Kindle, Moira, so thanks for reminding me. Pity about the lack of festivities, but it sound fun anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes it is, and despite the lack of Xmas parties, I think it would be a great one to read over the festive season, so I hope you find time for it.
      I have just got a new Kindle, and am so happy! I had a hiatus, and I was lost without it...

      Delete
  5. Great illustrations. Not sure it's my kind of novel, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sometimes I read the book so regular readers don't have to! and I did have fun finding the dresses, so I love it when people like them.

      Delete
  6. I have this among the TBRs! Will dig it out immediately, forthwith and even sooner than that, because you have made it sound so enticing, and those clothes are so amazing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know - I did (of course) love the clothes. And the book is very entertaining - Peck is very funny, and also clever and has an understanding of the human heart, if I can put it that way.

      Delete

Post a Comment