One February evening in the year 1968, Fr Wilfred, the parish priest of the Sacred Heart Catholic church in Droitwich, tumbles out of his confessional, stabbed to death. His older sister demands the best detective in the force, and Stan Wickfield is appointed to the case. Unfortunately he cannot identify either the means or the motive of the murder, much less the perpetrator.
His investigation leads him through the highways and byways of tensions in the Catholic Church in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and brings him face to face with anti-Catholic sentiment in the local population. His suspects include an eccentric and learned septuagenarian spinster who quotes d’Azeglio every time they meet, a school technician rejected for the priesthood because of his sexuality, the custodian of Kenilworth Castle and a bookmaker with a taste for anti-papal sentiment. Motives for the priest’s death waver confusingly between contempt for his office, disapproval of a teenage indiscretion, personal hatred and suicide. Wickfield is at his wits’ end until his wife’s reading – a novella by Nicholas Montserrat – prods him towards a triumphant solution.
The story comes to a dramatic climax in two sermons preached by the dead priest’s curate, Fr Gabriel.
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Julius Falconer never fails to write serious and stimulating stories with humour, a wealth of researched detail and subtle plots.