Death of a Chancellor

The fourth novel in David Dickinson's Lord Francis Powerscourt mystery series is a daft, but oddly compelling tale of murder in the cathedral close. When John Eustace, the Chancellor of a provincial English cathedral, is found brutally murdered, his butler and friend cover up the details of the grisly death. Eustace's sister, however, is less than convinced and asks Francis Powerscourt to investigate. Shortly following his arrival two further grisly deaths occur, with seemingly innocent members of the clergy being dispatched by the most dreadful methods. Clearly a madman is at work - but does this have any connection with the changes to John Eustace's will, and what is really going on at the heart of the cathedral?

Part Barchester Towers, (the young journalist Patrick Butler, and the widow Anne Herbert, are definitely modelled around the central lovers of Trollope's The Warden), part murder mystery, part let's-have-a-go-at-the-Roman-Catholic-Church-almost-(but-not-quite)-in-the-style-of-Dan-Brown. This is a daft mix. The basic murder mystery is interesting and well plotted. There's some lovely characterisation (especially Butler and Herbert, and Powerscourt's two children), but it really is a very silly tale, especially the hijacking of the cathedral by a mob of para-Jesuits. There are some glaring anachronisms, and a hefty dose of snobbery.

Having said which it does read well, and compels you to read on even while telling yourself that it's supremely silly. I suspect that I probably will read another Francis Powerscourt, but it will definitely be a guilty pleasure.


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