|The Revd Callie Anson (creator: Kate Charles)
|The Revd Callie Anson, when we first meet her, is the newly arrived curate at All Saints' Church in Paddington in London. Aged 4 years older than her 26-year-old brother in the first book (but still only "nearly 30" in the third book), she has just broken up with her fiancé Adam, who, awkwardly for her, is now a curate in the same diocese. She has a very demanding mother who is never satisfied with her, and a happily homosexual younger brother, Peter, whose company she always enjoys. It was he who, as a child, had first called her Callie, as at first he couldn't say her real name, Caroline.
After university, she had followed her father into the Civil Service - then her father had got cancer and she had been much helped by the woman hospital chaplain, Frances Cherry. It was Frances who "had helped her to discover her vocation to the priesthood, and put her on the path leading to ordination: 'Before I met Frances, I didn't even know that women could be priests. Afterwards, I knew that I had to be one.' " It is Frances who describes her as "so normal. So sensible, so sane".
Callie is an interesting and attractive character, more notable, perhaps, for her loving, caring personality than for any deep spiritual understanding or experiences. She is nothing if not thoroughly down-to-earth and approachable. When her brother Peter asked her, "What do they call you, then? They surely don't call you 'Father' do they? Or 'Mother'?" Callie laughed and explained, "I don't think they know quite what to call me. They've never had a woman curate here before. So I've just been telling them to call me 'Callie' ".
Kate Charles is the pen name used by Carol Fosher Chase (1950- ). She was brought up in Bloomington, Illinois, where she graduated from Illinois State University, then went on to earn an MA from Indiana University. She moved to England in 1985, and came to serve as parish administrator for her local church. Her first crime novel was in a series featuring the solicitor David Middleton-Brown, who is also an expert on ecclesiastical furnishings, vestments and silver, and which was published in 1991. These first books were very well received in the UK, but were felt to be "too English" by American publishers. After open-heart surgery in 1996, she changed direction, and began writing one-off suspense novels.
Her first book featuring the clerical detective, Callie Anson, did not appear until 2005. Callie had previously appeared in a short story set in Venice and, as the author found her "an engaging and sympathetic character", she brought her back in Evil Intent, as she wanted to explore issues that women face in the Church.
Kate Charles says that her favourite hobby is visiting churches and she is an enthusiastic supporter of WATCH (Women in the Church). She lectures on crime stories with clerical backgrounds, and lived for twenty years, with her husband and dogs, in Bedford in East Anglia, before moving on to Ludlow in Shropshire, near the Welsh border. Both she and her husband are now UK citizens.
Evil Intent (2005)
One curate in particular, Father Jonah Adimola, picks her out for a torrent of verbal abuse - then, when he is found strangled, Callie's friend Frances (The Rev Frances Cherry) is arrested. Her defending lawyer turns out to be an ex-lover of Detective Inspector Neville Stewart who is the officer prosecuting Frances, and Detective Sergeant Mark Lombardi is the handsome Italian who has fallen for Callie. Talk about close police involvement!
The book is full of lively/interesting/eccentric characters such as the bouncy black dean Leo Jackson, who has to cope with all the local in-fighting: "I don't know which are worse," he said. "The bloody Evangelicals, or the bloody-minded Anglo Catholics". He has another problem too: he has to conceal his own homosexuality. Then there's the unscrupulous journalist, Lilith Noone, determined to make her reputation by revealing all, but who finally comes across as a not wholly unsympathetic, lonely, and unhappy person. And there are all the driven, sometimes aggressive and/or insensitive priests that make up what was at the time, ten years after the first women had been priested, still an overwhelmingly male-run church. "Callie had discovered, especially at theological college, often the men who spoke most loudly against homosexuality were the one who feared it most, either because of their own experiences or their unacknowledged desires". Even a couple of antagonistic old pensioners, at first highly opposed to Callie, turn out to have a homosexual son, and end up turning to her for reassurance.
We are made to care about these characters and their hopes, disappointments and frustrations, which the author describes with real sympathy and understanding. And there's even a brief appearance by David Middleton-Brown (from the previous books) who suddenly and unexpectedly bobs up as "a priest in this diocese .... an expert in the area of church furnishings and silver". And there's the latest arrival,Callie's new cocker spaniel, Bella: "Beautiful, with her long silky ears and her enormous dark eyes".. (The author is a confirmed dog-lover and happily doesn't believe in keeping her own particular likes and dislikes out of her stories).
The church background too rings absolutely true, from a description of all the tiresome duties connected to the "high calling" of being a vicar's wife, to the workings of the Forward in Faith group who "pretend that women priests don't even exist." It was one of them who had said "that it was no more possible to ordain a woman than to ordain a pork pie. A woman may believe she's ordained, and other people may believe it, but that doesn't mean she's a priest. Not as far as they're concerned."
There is a lot happening and, although Callie herself does not do much detecting, and does not seem to have much in the way of deep spiritual experiences, it is all very well written and holds the interest throughout. Recommended.
Secret Sins (2007)
Callie and her friend Frances Cherry, the hospital chaplain, are soon involved, as is Callie's would-be lover Sergeant Mark Lombardi, the Police Liaison Officer who is trying to summon up courage to introduce her to his close-knit Italian family. And he is very conscious that she is a priest (or will soon be one), so "It would be wrong to push her into a physical relationship. Not when he wasn't in a position to offer her anything in the way of commitment".
As in the earlier book, Callie does not do much detecting herself, but is closely involved in the action. The author manages to bring her and the other characters to life in a way that stresses their individuality. It is Morag who, when telling Callie about the death of her dog over six months ago, explains that Donald, her husband, to whom she had been married for forty years "died a few months before Macduff. And I'm ashamed to say that of the two, I probably miss Macduff a bit more. But then, I spent more time with Macduff than I did with Donald. He was a doctor - worked all the hours God gave, and then some." It is all very down-to-earth: even a small boy goes in for a bit of blackmail when he realises Alex is on a train without a ticket.
The author has fun with some of the characters' names, such as the very capable black midwife turned policewoman who is called Yolanda Fish. She is an endearing character. (In the previous book there was a girl called Willow Tree, but it is explained that she had had "eco-warrior parents".) And the author has a nice turn of phrase too. When Mark (or Marco as Callie calls him) had to apologise for letting her down, she was determined not to come over all heavy with him. "It wasn't like they had firm plans for the afternoon. And not like there was anything ... firm ... between them at all."
As the story develops, the author whisks us from one group of characters to another, but in a way that usually holds the interest and is not as frustrating as it might be. This is partly because the different incidents are kept short, so we do not have to wait long to discover what is happening. And a lot is happening. It gets a bit confusing at times and the plot is less coherent than in the earlier book, but it leaves me looking forward to the next book in the series.
Deep Waters (2009)
Detective Inspector Neville Stewart is called away from his honeymoon to investigate the case. And journalist Lilith Noone's professional future is put on the line when she too becomes involved. Meanwhile Callie's friend, police family liaison officer Mark Lombardi, is shocked by the sudden death of his brother-in-law. This turns out to be murder and Mark finds himself in an impossible position, torn between loyalty to his family and his growing love for Callie.
The character (and even the name) of publicity-hungry Jodee is very reminiscent of the real-life Jade Goody, "star" of Big Brother, who died a very heavily publicised death in 2009, the year the book was published. As journalist Lilith Noone comes to recognize, "The world of celebrity was essentially meaningless. There was such an element of arbitrariness in it: Jodee hadn't discovered a cure for cancer; Chazz hadn't found the answer to global warming .... Neither, quite frankly, possessed anything even close to an average allocation of brain cells. They had both been in the right place at the right time, and that was all one could say for why they were famous and someone else wasn't."
The author's main interest is in exploring the intricacies of human relationships and much more time is spent on these than on unfolding the murder mystery. There is little actual detective work and the final arrest of the murderer is only briefly and not too convincingly described. But the characters of Cally and Mark, his "difficult" niece 13-year-old Chiara, other members of his extended Italian "famiglia", his friend Inspector Neville Stewart and his new wife Triona, Callie's vicar's far-from-welcoming wife Jane, and her old friend hospital chaplain Frances are all brought alive in a vivid and convincing way.
It is Frances who, in her hospital work, had to face up to a distraught mother "who had expected her to come up with answers for the unanswerable questions. 'Why my son? How could a loving God take away my son, in the prime of his life, when he had so much to live for? How could you believe in a God who could do that?' There were no answers. Only more questions." And when Callie tells her about her growing relationship with Mark, "Again, Frances had no easy answers for her. She could merely listen and act as a sounding-board for the things Callie already knew. The only advice she'd offered had been, 'Don't give up on it yet. If you really love him, you can work it out. Don't do anything hasty, or say anything you'll regret.' Any religious convictions don't get a mention.
It all gets very emotional as "Callie cried herself to sleep" and, before the story ends, "Mark took out his handkerchief and sobbed: wracking, unmanly tears". It is certainly the opposite end of the spectrum from the hard-boiled thriller in which people get shot down on every side without anybody getting too concerned. So, if you want a fast moving whodunnit, or exciting action, or even just a gripping plot, this book is not for you. But for a realistic account of the problems of everyday living and loving, it has much to offer.
False Tongues (2015)
Meanwhile Margaret Phillips, the Principal of the college, falls in love with middle-aged supposed old bachelor "Mad Phil", one of her staff, who is soon seen kissing a pretty young undergraduate! But (as every reader will anticipate) all may not be quite as it seems.
Meanwhile, in London, Detective Inspector Neville Stewart and Callie's boy friend family liasion officer Mark Lombardi are involved with the latest fatal stabbing of a teenager. Was gifted, popular 15-year-old Sebastian Frost all he seemed to be, or was he involved in the queasy world of cyber-bullying on Facebook? And could he have been, like so many of the author's characters, yet another gay?
There are so many characters, and so much jumping around from one to another, that it all gets not just confusing but positively frustrating. And Callie herself not only does no detective work (all that is left to the police) but spends most of her time worrying about her boyfriends, past and present. Will Marco (Mark Lombardy) give in to to his Mamma's insistence that he "marry a nice Italian girl" or go for her? As she gets round to confiding to Tamsin, with a lump in her throat: "I just don't understand why I've become so repulsive. My fiancé doesn't want to sleep with me. And now my ex makes it clear that he doesn't, either. What is wrong with me? Am I that hideous?" It sounds straight from the murky pages of "romantic" fiction.
Callie does not seem to have any deep religious faith or understanding, and even has to have the idea of God's forgiveness explained to her by the rather unconvincingly ever-wise John Kingsley. It all holds the interest in a gossipy sort of way, but too many of the characters (such as the ever-coarse Det Sergeant Cowley and the ever-relentless journalist Lilith Noone) seem one-dimensional. It all comes as a disappointment after the drive of the previous books. And the paperback is not helped by its exceptionally small print.
|This was the paperback cover of the first Callie Anson book. It is not really very informative, but is a more attractive design than that of the hardback below where the title obscures the main photo.|