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MURDERING MINISTERS
by Alan Beechey
Poisoned Pen, May 2014
284 pages
$14.95
ISBN: 1464202451


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Poisoned Pen Press has just published new editions of three Oliver Swithin mysteries, and they are well worth a read—or a re-read.

MURDERING MINISTERS, the second in the trio by Alan Beechey, again stars children's book author and amateur sleuth Oliver Swithin and his now girlfriend Detective Sergeant Effie Strongitharm, as well as Beechey's signature wordplay and wit. However, in this second book, the mystery itself comes a little more to the forefront (as opposed to the humor and clever vocabulary, although those are both still present), and Beechey spends a bit more time on character development, both of his continuing characters and those particular to this story.

Oliver's uncle and Effie's boss, Detective Superintendent Tim Mallard has been asked to take a leave of absence from Scotland Yard, so Effie finds herself reassigned to Plumley where, coincidentally, Oliver is researching an article about the United Diaconalist Church. When a teenage member of the church disappears and one of its deacons dies right before Effie's eyes, Oliver and Effie find themselves deep in an investigation of teenage runaways, church politics, and would-be cults. Oliver uses his cover as a reporter to aid in Effie's investigation, and Effie tries both to solve the mysteries and straighten out the chauvinistic attitudes of the officers in her temporary police station, giving her plenty of opportunities to employee the now famous "Look."

All of this takes place in the two weeks before Christmas, much of the action takes place in and around the church, and the main suspect in the murder case is the church's minister. Not surprisingly, therefore, organized religion and the wide variety of attitudes toward it and Christian tenets are central themes of the novel, so much so that Beechey even adds a postscript reiterating that the story and all the characters are works of fiction. However, while the story and characters are fictional, the attitudes about religion, the beliefs expressed, and people's responses to both ring true and are essential to the plot and the characterizations. While that may seem to set the stage for deep discussions and heavy reading, in true Beechy form, these subjects are treated with plenty of humor which, while not negating the seriousness of the crimes being investigated, does keep the overall mood light. Meanwhile, Beechey continues to develop some very likable characters, giving the reader good reason to look forward to seeing more of them in the next installment of the series.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, May 2014

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