Robert Amiss

(creator: Ruth Dudley Edwards)


Ruth Dudley Edwards
Robert Amiss is a 30-year-old ex-civil servant, a "historian by training and administrator by profession" who is between jobs and so is sent by the redoubtable Baroness Troutbeck to help the newly appointed bishop at Westonbury Cathedral sort out his problems.

The formidable Baroness Troutbeck is not only an active member of the House of Lords but Mistress of St Martha's College, Cambridge, and a bouncy bisexual extrovert in her 60s who swears like a trooper and drinks like a fish, likes to call herself Jack, and is used to getting her own way. Robert points out that he doesn't believe in God or much care for pomp and circumstance but is told, "What's God got to do with it? We're talking about the Church of England here, not some crowd of born-again fruitcakes. Nobody would be indelicate enough at this shindig to enquire as to whether or not you believe in God. Good grief, these days, in the good old C of E, that's almost a disqualification for office."

Robert who is described as "intelligent, discreet and honourable" complains that he does not enjoy working as a spy, but Troutbeck tells him, "Bollocks! It's in your nature. You were born to be a spy and a seducer - in the nonsexual sense, that is, for most purposes, more's the pity. You persuade people to blab like no one ever known." So, as in previous books in the series, they make an effective team and he proves to be quite a detective.

Ruth Dudley Edwards (1944 - ) was born and brought up in Dublin and educated at University College Dublin, Girton College, Cambridge, and Wolfson College, Cambridge. Describing herself as a British-Irish "sometime academic, teacher, marketing executive and civil servant", she became a freelance writer in 1979. A "revisionist historian" and prize-winning biographer, she has published numerous books, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as contributing to many newspapers and has appeared frequently on radio and television. She says that she "fell into crime writing by accident (an unexpected offer), intended to write straight detection but couldn't stop the farce and the jokes. What has happened unintentionally is that my novels have turned into (affectionate) satire on the British establishment."

Murder in a Cathedral (1996)
Murder in a Cathedral tells how for many years Westonbury Cathedral had been dominated by a clique of High Church gays such as Canon Father Cecil Davidge who liked to be called Beryl, and so when Norman Cooper, an austere, intolerant, happy-clappy evangelist (who "made Ian Paisley seem like a papist"), is appointed dean, there is shock, outrage and fear.


David Elworthy, the gentle and politically innocent new bishop, is distraught at the prospect of warfare between the factions; contentious issues include the camp lady chapel and the gay memorial under construction in the deanery garden. Sketches showed it as a marble effigy of the late gay Dean "clad in full ecclesiastical regalia, coloured in where appropriate with purple and gold, his body being borne by six winged youths in extremely brief togas .... and what the bishop said were the apostles skinny-dipping in the River Jordan, while John the Baptist and Jesus - turned out for decency's sake in posing pouches - get on with the baptism in the corner."

Desperate for help, Elworthy cries on the shoulder of his old friend, the redoubtable Baroness Troutbeck, who forces her unofficial troubleshooter, Robert Amiss, to move into the bishop's palace as a "temporary researcher-cum-personal-assistant" to the bishop. Hence my (rather doubtful) inclusion of him as a "clerical detective"!

The story gets off to a lively start and "Jack" Troutbeck is a joy throughout. It is she who points out, "The trouble with Rome is they expect you to take it seriously, believe in God and obey all the ghastly rules stopping you doing anything you want especially if they haven't had it themselves, and what's more, they disapprove of you only turning up to services when you want to. Roman Catholic prelates look good, but sadly they're mostly life-denying misery guts." but even so she is "pretty High Church as atheists go."

The author has fun too with the evangelical Dean's wife. It is she who wants to replace traditional choral music with "sing-alongs for Jesus", and who writes her own "little songs" for her Bible story classes for children:
"If you pray most every day
Jesus takes you by the hand
And leads you to the smiling land
Where even little daisies pray.
So smile, smile to Jesus, join his daisy chain
Say nay unto the Devil's wiles
And be a daisy for our Lord
And they'll be miles and miles of smiles
For you and you and me."
And there's her great ally, The Rev. Bev, who is "charismatic, joyful and ready to heal at the drop of a cassock." Not to mention Plutarch, the cat, another force to be reckoned with who refuses to anything anything but sophisticated and expensive food.

When violent deaths start to occur, it is Amiss who comes up with the (unlikely) solution. He still doesn't think "anything will make me believe in God" but at least he is left with considerable respect for the gentle bishop who, he says, is "the sort of man who gets Christianity a good name", and Jack Troutbeck, who, after a hearty meal of "red-hot fish-head curry", is able to offer the bishop a new job that is much more to his taste: a St Martha's Fellowship in Philosophy.



The author has her own website.



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Murder in a Cathedral cover
The cover seems very appropriate.
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