For Whom the Bells of St. Edwold's Toll

"A Fatal Winter" by G.M. Malliet
Reviewed by David Marshall James

The holidays can bring out the beast in people, particularly when those people are a beastly lot for starters-- in this case, a castle full of money-grubbing nobs clamoring for Dad/Granddad/Uncle's mega-millions jackpot of a fortune.

How convenient, then, that he's been cut up like a bunch of potatoes to go round the (golden) Christmas goose.

No tears shed either for his battle-axe of a sister, she who loved her hothouse flowers better than her kinfolk, much less the common folk.

How inconvenient, then, for the detectives in Monkslip-super-Mare-- that usually picturesque town on the English Channel.

If Monkslip-super-Mare were Gotham City, the detectives would head for the jolly-red Batphone. Instead, they ring up Fr. Max Tudor, the Wedgewood-dishy vicar of St. Edwold's parish in the nearby-- and always picturesque-- village of Nether-Monkslip, where the beer's warm, the tea's steaming, and Fr. Max is the hottie.

Call a vicar, you say? Doubtless more than a few village people have fantasized him into tight-so-right superhero garb. Moreover, he used to be an MI-5 agent, so he's Jane Marple by way of James Bond, refigured as Hugh Grant in a collar (the author's stated vision of Fr. Max).

Seeing as how Mr. Grant's already about ten years too old to play Fr. Max (we recently suggested him as a sexy Prof. Henry Higgins-- see review of "Loverley"), perhaps the author would be amenable to channeling, say, Robert Pattinson for the movie version?

Anyway, there you have it: Traditional English drawing-room mystery, except in a castle, where the just-deceased lady-in-residence referred to it as "the withdrawing room."

All that, and Fr. Max having a fine romance in the around-the-edges subplot. Seeing as how she's new-agey, and how the vicar keeps investigating murders on the sly, his bishop may well yet explode.

Author G.M. Malliet, whose first Max (nee Maxen) Tudor mystery, "Wicked Autumn," was published, well, this past autumn, writes with a clever, lively hand and loads of sly humor. Indeed, when she gears up that humor, few can catch her, and Maxen-thusiasts will gladly return to this series to see what's up, come spring.