|Lady Katheryn Bulkeley
(creator: Kate Ellis)
|Lady Katheryn Bulkeley of Cheadle (her eldest brother, Sir Richard, was Constable of the King's castle at Beaumaris) had previously been the Benedictine Abbess of Godstow, when she had shown her courage and determined nature by pleading (unsuccessfully) to Thomas Cromwell to spare her nunnery from the fate of so many others. However, she had been given a "handsome pension" and, although she was 35 now was still "an attractive woman, slim, with good complexion and even features, her chestnut hair peeping from the front of her fine linen coif."
She proves to be a resourceful and determined investigator for "once she had set her mind on something there was little purpose in argument" but "putting people at their ease and encouraging them to talk was one of the talents God had given her", so she happily communicates with all manner of people from nobles and the clergy to maids and whores.
Kate Ellis (1953 - ) was born and brought up in Liverpool then went on to study drama in Manchester. She worked in teaching, marketing and accountancy, and published some twenty crime novels as well as many short stories. The Devil's Priest (reviewed below) was the very first book she wrote. She is married with two grown up sons and lives in North Cheshire, England, with her husband and Vivaldi the cat.
The Devil's Priest (2006)
The Kindle edition gets off to a rather shaky start with a primitive sketch map of Liverpool that I found almost impossible to position the right way up - and which even lacks a caption to explain that it is Liverpool! However, once the story gets going, it proves to be an easy-to-read tale in which the central character, Lady Katheryn, does not seem to be at all inhibited by her previous life as an abbess. However, she still prays occasionally - and shows real concern for her previous charges (and ex- monks too) that have fallen on hard times. Some of these have done quite well for themselves, getting married or finding reasonably congenial jobs, but others have had a much rougher time of things. All this is well described.
Katheryn is personally attracted by the ex-monk apothecary Valentine who helps her in her search for the murderer. So when he kisses her hand, "she lowered her eyes modestly, feeling a tiny thrill of forbidden excitement." At times like this, it reads like a romantic novel. Even rape or attempted rape scenes are not described too explicitly. But Katheryn is no prude and has no problem interviewing a whore or taking accomodation in Valentine's house, even if "she felt a recklesness that she had never experienced before .... It was not that she was unused to the ways of the opposite sex: she had three brothers and it had been her duty, as Abbess of a great religious house, to entrertain the landowners and noblemen of Oxford." But she needn't have worried: in this book the goodies can be relied on to stay good and the baddies to stay bad. Katheryn herself was proved right when "she seemed confident that her family connections would protect her from serious harm".
There are some good moments, as when Katheryn does not hesitate to enter an ale house and confront "weasel-face" a crooked dice player, showing him up for what he is, and she shows real compassion for Agnes when she confesses "the sin of fornication" that had led to a miscarriage. She keeps her feet on the ground too, as, when told about two supposed appearances of Satan, "Although Katheryn was in no doubt that the devil was constantly about his work, she did not think he was in the habit of making himself quite so visible." More of this gentle sort of humour would have helped the story along.
Parts can sound hackneyed as when "Katheryn turned round, her eyes blazing with determination", or when a character "fell to his knees and let out a cry like a wounded beast". Even the dying murderer's last minute attempt to rape her (during which "she felt a shiver of revulsion") is not really as horrific as the author must have intended. But, lightweight though some of it is, its portrayal of the effect of the dissolution of the monasteries on their one-time inhabitants still makes interesting reading.
|The original hardback cover (above) must be the most garish on this site!
By contrast, the inexpensive Kindle version (below) is a model of restraint.