Review

Unholy Dying

by Robert Barnard



One of the chief complaints of avid readers is that there just
isn't enough time to read everything we'd like. And that
lament is usually followed by the admission that we have tall
stacks of unread books leaning precariously next to our favorite
reading chairs. This may go a long way toward explaining why Robert
Barnard isn't on the tip of the tongue when readers enumerate their
favorite mystery writers, but sadly, there are some who've never
even heard of him. Hopefully, this reader/reviewer can do her small
part to help correct that situation.

Barnard has written around 25 novels and numerous short stories.
He's the winner of the Nero Wolfe Award as well as the Anthony,
Agatha, and Macavity Awards, and he's received eight nominations
for the Edgar award. An impressive resume for someone whose novels
aren't commonly found on that all-important bestseller list in the
prolific American market. His latest suspense, UNHOLY DYING,
exemplifies the classic qualities that most of us look for in our
mysteries: fascinating characters, interesting settings, pertinent
dialogue, and an intriguing puzzle offering any number of potential
resolutions.

UNHOLY DYING takes place in Shipley, a quaint English town where
life appears less complicated on the surface, but factor in the
human element and anything is possible. As in most small towns, the
church is a pivotal institution, which is why the town is in shock
when their Catholic priest is rumored to have fathered a child by a
19-year-old resident and stolen church funds for her benefit.
Rumors turn into headlines when a Leeds scandalmonger by the name
of Cosmo Horrocks decides to further his tabloid career by
publishing the scandalous story. Suspended from his duties, and
facing the painful fact that his Bishop seems intent on believing
the worst, Father Pardoe hides away in the home of a sympathetic
parishioner while events run their course.

The villain Cosmo Horrocks is a despicable character in more ways
than one, so when he's found bludgeoned to death it doesn't
surprise anyone who knew him. In fact, most anyone who knew him
could be considered a suspect. His life was devoted to cruelty, and
he relished it. He victimized his wife and children and coworkers,
and threatened to reveal the secret affairs of those who offered to
add substance to rumors. Even the estranged parents of the pregnant
girl had reason to hate him for manipulating their words and
exposing them to public scorn. And, of course, there's Father
Pardoe, who fears losing his career should the vicious gossip
actually make it into the national tabloids.

Barnard's faithful and familiar constables, Police Inspector Mike
Oddie and Sergeant Charlie Peace, step in to investigate the
murder, and at this juncture, the ugly truths begin to slowly seep
to the surface. Barnard has populated Shipley with an ample
cross-section of emotionally troubled human beings --- bullies,
adulterers, scammers, and thieves as well as the seemingly happy
couple next door and the gossipy old biddy down the street. Every
character remains bold and relevant, beckoning the reader toward
the inescapable discovery that Shipley could be our town, our
neighbors, a mirror image of society as a whole. His astute
observations on human behavior are evident in the realistic
portrayals of people acting and reacting as the storyline builds to
the final chapter. Those of you who are fortunate enough to have
sampled his work will enjoy this latest suspense. Those of you who
haven't will find another superb author to add to that wobbling
stack.

Reviewed by Ann Bruns (BkPageWC@aol.com) on January 24, 2011

Unholy Dying
by Robert Barnard

  • Publication Date: April 20, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 0743201493
  • ISBN-13: 9780743201490