The Rev Ernest Clayton

(creator: Robert Barnard)

Robert Barnard
The Rev Ernest Clayton has been a parish priest for some 25 years. He is very much a man with a mind of his own, who is not afraid to say what he thinks and act accordingly. As "an amateur in human nature", he enjoyed watching people and their reactions, but is "honest enough to admit to his belief that within 50 years Christianity would be nothing more than a folk memory in his part of Lincolnshire". He had "a logical and tidy mind" and, as the bishop told him approvingly, makes "quite a detective!".

Robert Barnard (1936-2013) was educated at the Royal Grammar School in Colchester and at Balliol College, Oxford, earning his PhD at the University of Bergen, Norway. His first crime novel, A Little Local Murder, was published in 1976. The novel was written while he was a lecturer at the University of Tromsø in Norway. He went on to write more than 40 other books and numerous short stories. Under the pseudonym Bernard Bastable, he also published a series of alternate history mystery novels featuring Wolfgang Mozart as a detective. He explained that he wrote only to entertain.

His favourite crime writer was Agatha Christie. In 1980 he published a critique of her work titled A Talent to Deceive: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie.
He was awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2003 by the Crime Writers Association for a lifetime of achievement. Barnard and his wife Louise lived in Yorkshire.

Blood Brotherhood (1977)
Blood Brotherhood sees the small Anglican community of St Botolph's, set in rolling countryside in the west Riding of Yorkshire, playing host to a symposium on the role of the church in the modern world. Members of the symposium include a television bishop, a trendy vicar who has just staged a rock Te Deum in his church, a nonconformist fund-raising brash American, and even two Norwegian priests who, to everyone's surprise, turn out to be women. When one of the brotherhood is murdered, another of the delegates, The Rev Ernest Clayton, finds that he has to take a much-needed lead in unmasking the culprit.

The various clergymen are described with gleeful irreverance. The Bishop of Peckham and Dulwich, for example, "had reached the age of heart attacks and thoughts of mortality without it having any radical effect on his temper. He gazed out on the world, bland, benign, and skeptical. The subject for the week-long symposium had appealed to him. 'The Social Role of the Church in the Modern World.' It had presented, it seemed to him, unlimited opportunities for dressing up truisms to look like the paradoxes, as well as a chance to make some agreeably sly references to the present Archbishop of Canterbury." He is, in fact secretly planning to become the next Archbishop, so has to be careful what he says. It is he who, when confronted with the dead body of a monk which had been "savagely cut to ribbons, and (was) heavy with thick red blood, which had spurted over walls and dropped in sticky pools onto the floor", just comes out with his favourite expression, "Goodness me."

Even more outrageous and totally Politically Incorrect is the black bishop of Mitabezi who, it turns out, has the unfortunate habit of occasionally relapsing into ritual sacrifice mode. He had been asked to attend the conference "by Church House, to keep him out of their hair, and to ensure that he didn't make too many fiery statements to the press." Most of the others there "had been recommended by their bishops - because they needed a rest, needed feeding up, or needed to get away from their wives."

And there is the sinister Father Anselm, the head of the community, who seems to resent everybody's presence but particularly that of the two women. "You realise," he said urgently, "that the presence of women within the community's walls is totally against the rules of the order - and absolutely unprecedented?"
"Of course, my dear chap, and naturally," said the Bishop, rather surprised at having to soothe the awesome head of the Community. "But it's church House you must quarrel with, you know. I have nothing to do with making up the list of delegates." But "the situation appealed greatly to his sense of humour, and to his sense of the dramatic too (he was a governor of the National Theatre, and had always taken the lead in his theological college's annual play). The situation was pregnant with further piquant possibilities, and really there seems no good reason why, once there, the newcomers should not be allowed to remain. "The best thing to do would be to treat them like any other delegates, and square it with your flock."
"Put them in the visitors' wing, do you mean?" said Father Anselm. "With the rest of the delegates?"
"Well, after all, why not?" said the Bishop. "Damn it all, we are clergyman."

It turns out that "although the Norwegian delegates were both female, one member was undoubtedly more female than the other" so both the bishops tried to sit beside her at dinner that night, although here it was Peckam who outmanouvered Matabezi. Her companion, rejoicing in the name of Randi Paulsen, "was pinched and angular, and carried herself with a stiff correctness about the shoulders, as if she wanted you to forget that she had a body .... Her face was small and forgettable, but she wore the expression of self-satisfaction affected by the unco guid, and her eyes shone with suspicion of the intentions of men." It is she who discovers that none of the cell doors have locks, so insists on drawing a heavy wardrobe across her door each night.

There is also the world's most incompetent comic policeman, Inspector Plunkett, who, racist and anti high Church as he is, immediately blames the murder on "bloodlust" and ends up by crazily hurling around chapel statuary and furnishings which to him are examples of "confounded, damnable idolatry!" He is hurriedly replaced by the more stolid and saner Inspector Croft, who is only just ahead of Clayton in identifying the murderer, although it is Clayton who identifies the community's strange secret.

It is a thoroughly entertaining story with outrageous characters. Recommended as the most amusing of all the clerical detective stories.


There is a list of the author's books on the Fantastic Fiction site, but otherwise much less about him on the web that you would expect.



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Blood Brotherhood cover
Blood Brotherhood cover
Blood Brotherhood cover
Different editions of this entertaining book had very different covers. Take your pick!
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