Jorge Winter

(creator: Guy Sheppard)

Jorge Winter had been the son of criminal parents and had been brought up by his grandmother while his parents were in prison, but by the age of 12 he had been "drinking alcohol and taking drugs" and his behaviour had become violent and unpredictable. He had begun by joining a teenage gang in London but had ended up as a volunteer prison chaplain in Yorkshire - but by the time we meet him, he had "moved on" and had become head constable at Gloucester Cathedral with the rank of Inspector. Why he makes these abrupt career changes is never clearly explained. Aged 36, he is seriously overweight but fighting a "battle not to be a glutton."

Guy Sheppard moved to Gloucestershire when he was 9 years old and went on to attend Gloucester Grammar School. After graduating from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, with a First Class degree in English Literature, he taught English briefly but then took control of the family metal finishing business in Cheltenham. For many years he and his wife have ridden horses on the Cotswold hills, particularly around Coberley, which is how his love for the county, its wildlife and people came to blossom. His first book, a ghost story called Countess Lucy and the Curse of Coberley Hall was published in 2016. His second book (reviewed below) was inspired by the ancient Welsh tale of Sabrina. She was a real-life princess who was drowned by her vengeful stepmother in Gloucestershire's biggest river. The Severn is named after her.

Sabrina and the Secret of the Severn Sea (2017)
Sabrina and the Secret of the Severn Sea describes how Gloucester Cathedral Police Officer Jorge Winter returns to his small-town roots in Berkeley to track down the missing Reverend Luke Lyons, whose coat and hat have been found abandoned beside the River Severn. This is where he and Luke had grown up together. It is also the place where Luke had saved him from drowning in the nearby estuary, which makes this, his first case as a church detective, deeply personal.

In the absence of a body, the local police treat Luke's disappearance as unsolvable, just as they did his grandfather's years ago. (Sean had vanished on the night that two petrol barges had blown up and destroyed the railway bridge over the river at Sharpness in 1960.) Jorge finds the evidence for Luke's apparent suicide less than convincing, especially as Luke's criminal parents had run the Severn Sea Gang in the 1970s and 80s, burgling large stately homes, and leaving a secret hoard of stolen antiques worth some £80 million (!), and Luke had been on the search for it.

It makes a very complicated and sometimes confusing story with as much time being devoted to Luke in the past as to Jorge in the present and with constant jumping from one to the other. Luke himself, another criminal turned clergyman, is not a very convincing character, especially as Jorge (who would surely have known better) and Luke too keeps referring to "Reverend Luke Lyons", whereas Anglican clergymen describe themselves as The Rev not just Rev. In addition, Luke has very little to say about his religious faith but is happy to drive a spear into the body of the crook who had raped him when he was nine. "They say that chemical castration is good for predators like you. Nothing like the real thing, I say," he tells him.

It is really quite unconvincing when his mother confesses to her crimes on TV, and some of the dialogue sounds stilted. Then there is the unlikely Sabrina ap Loegres whose "painted lips breathed white snakes which arrived about her in the cold air with a life that was uncannily eel-like." Later there is even a full-blown pagan rite, witnessed by Luke, celebrating the goddess Sabrina who lives in the river, during which he recognised many faces "having passed them in the hamlet of Hill or been served by them in shops in Berkeley. Others he recalled from Sunday services in St Mary's." They all happily join in the immersion of a naked young man whom he recognises as his sister's future husband, and the sacrifice of a sheep. Just everyday life in Gloucestershire, I suppose.

There is an interview with the author on the Soglos site, and he has a blog on the Wordpress site.

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Sabrina cover
The cover is striking but gives little idea of the actual content.
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