Selling off the treasures isn’t straightforward

Murder in Advent by David Williams is set in a fictional cathedral city and revolves around the people who work and serve at the cathedral itself. Funds are growing short and the dean and chapter are looking at their treasures to see if any can be sold. They have a copy of Magna Carta but it is one that was given to the cathedral and has no real connection with it so they are planning to sell. Into the town comes Mark Treasure, a merchant banker from London, who has a legal interest in this Magna Carta because of its bequest and a position he holds at another church. It looks like Mark’s will be the deciding vote but before that happens there is a fire in the building and a body is found; it won’t be the last.

This book was written in the 1980s but it feels like it belongs more to the era between the wars. This is not just because of its style but also because of the subject matter which I don’t think is accessible to as many people now as it was in the past. The author assumes that the reader understands the various roles in a cathedral and what these people do and I did find myself adrift from time to time although I have a basic understanding of Church of England hierarchy. There are a lot of characters to keep up with, all the men who run the cathedral and their wives and sisters, and the author further complicates matters by sometimes using their title and sometimes their surname although other characters refer to them by a first name. This is actually one book that could have done with a list of characters at the beginning.

There are lots of suspects and plenty of motives. I think that the book might have been better had there been fewer. Nevertheless the author handles these all well and then reveals who the murderer is at the end, following another death. This is a perfectly competent crime story and I understand that it is one of a series. Mark Treasure is an excellent protagonist who has the right to ask lots of questions and be told secrets. Strangely, despite the title, neither Advent not Christmas feature much in the story at all.

You might find this book a bit impenetrable because of the number of characters and the details about the cathedral but I enjoyed it well enough to look out for others by the same author.

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