Michael David Anthony
Richard Harrison
(creator: Michael David Anthony)

Richard Harrison
is an ex-Intelligence Officer who has become Secretary of the Diocesan Dilapidations Board for Canterbury. He had been a young army officer in the Royal Engineers when he met Winnie, an art college student. They had got engaged within a week, then got married on his first leave. As the cold war deepened, he got seconded to counter-intelligence, then to full-time intelligence work in Austria. "Content, they'd waited for the children to come. Instead came the polio." But even in a wheelchair, she had joined her husband in Cyprus where Grivas and his EOKA gunmen had begun their attacks. There they had made friends with Seferiades, a Cypriot leader, for whose eventual death they both felt guilty. Harrison went onto serve In Kenya. Malaysia and Northern Ireland, but all these overseas postings and the secrecy of his work "had drawn them apart until they were almost lost to each other".

Then "to save his marriage, he'd wrenched himself free, resigning his commission and retreating to these cloisters (Canterbury) and the dull decencies of diocesan work". Winnie, still in a wheelchair, wants him to have nothing more to do with the Intelligence Service. So does he. But he still chooses to use his old title of Colonel.

He is not always an entirely sympathetic character, and is quite prepared to lie his way out of an embarrassing situation. He is "normally reticent, rather shy and awkward", and can be "grumpy and irritable", and very pompous too as when, visiting a very deprived area, he introduces himself by saying, "Excuse me disturbing you - I trust I haven't chosen an inopportune moment. I represent the Canterbury diocese. I wonder if I might have a word". Yet, although at first , he often seems to get things wrong, his sheer persistence wins through in the end. He may be, as he puts it, "an outmoded antique" who dislikes any idea of change, but he is driven by his conscience to do what he believes to be right.

Michael David Anthony (1942-2003) was the son of Welsh parents, his father being an Anglican parson, so he grew up in country vicarages. On leaving Wells Cathedral School (which he increasingly disliked), he did not go to university but worked as a cub reporter on a regional newspaper and travelled widely in Britain and abroad, working in a variety of occupations.

He studied at the universities of Helsinki, East Anglia and London, tried being a student at Gray's Inn, and taught in schools, colleges and universities in Britain and overseas. In 1978, he joined the staff of Woolwich College of Further Education, where he spent the rest of his teaching career. He also worked as a freelance journalist and radio scriptwiter. He was the author of three Richard Harrison books and two thirds of another novel, eventually finished by a friend. He had been planning to write a fourth Harrison book when he died of a heart attack, aged 61.

The Becket Factor (1990)
The Becket Factor is mostly set in and around Canterbury cathedral. When old Canon Cratchley dies under mysterious circumstances, suspicions are aroused. In addition, the Archbishop of Canterbury is about to retire, and his likely successor, the Bishop of Derby, is a controversial opponent of government policy. Could he prove to be another Becket? And could it be true that he is a communist sympathiser? Then an ancient unnamed coffin is discovered in the crypt. Could it contain the bones of Thomas Becket?

Trying to make sense of all this is Richard Harrison, the worried secretary of the Diocesan Dilapidations Board, who has been reluctantly drawn into this web of intrigue and deception by his ex-boss, the unscrupulous Brigadier Greville, who wants to use him for his own intelligence purposes. As he sees crowds thronging the crypt to catch a gimpse of the newly discovered coffin, Harrison wonders if "his civilisation was dust; Canterbury a museum, and the crowds come to gape at that worn slab in the crypt, a parody of a past devotion, an empty imitation of heritage dead as that of pharaonic Egypt."

Harrison's life with his invalid wife has its ups and downs. When he took her out to a meal, she "hadn't been greatly surprised .... Treats and scrupulous over-attention had always been his way of disguising the deserts between them". But "to her surprise, she found it no mere token, but a reaching out, an attempt, as it were, to recover lost ground. Something had happened, something had brought him back to her." In the end she realises "it was love that had brought him back" and "indirectly, the mysterious coffin was involved". All very puzzling.

Harrison seems far from an ideal agent: he keeps getting caught in incrimidating circumstances, and it is a very long time before, right at the end, in a highly melodramatic finale (when an attempt is made to assassinate the archbishop in the middle of his enthronement service) the murderer is finally revealed.

The best part of the story is the very realistic description of the cathedral, its staff and its life. The Intelligence background comes across as sinister enough, and there are some exciting moments, but Harrison himself remains something of an enigma. But you are left wanting to read more books in the series.

Dark Provenance (1995)
Dark Provenance sees Richard Harrison coming back from holiday with his crippled wife Winnie to find that things are far from happy in Canterbury. Proposed financial cutbacks an
d the radical views of the newly appointed young Archdeacon Cawthorne are spreading discord and despondency. As Harrison's good friend Dean Ingrams, puts it : "It seems he (Crawthorne) has Lambeth's mandate to cleanse the Augean stables and generally set the diocese on a sound financial footing - and that apparently means a further amalgamation of parishes and closure of churches!" It also turns out to mean evicting retired clergy and charging admission to the cathedral. At first Harrison thinks it may be his duty to go along with this, even if he can't agree with the Archdeacon that the cathedral is an "expensive folly" or accept his "ghastly vision of a fully-rationalized Church composed of nothing but encounter groups, hand-clapping and purpose-built ecumenical halls".

The cathedral and its environs are well described: "Sunlight, streaming through the tiers of lancet windows, cast radiant pools across the pavings beneath. Dappled in shadow and light, the double line of fluted columns soared up though slanting shafts of dust-moted brilliance to the criss-crossed rib vaulting under the roof, where at every intersection the gilt bosses gleamed down like huge golden eyes on the heads of the .... congregation eighty feet below."

But then there is the discovery of the body of a man who had apparently fallen out of a moving train, and who turns out to have had links with Harrison's past. Next, a clergymen dies in very odd circumstances. Harrison's investigations, inspired by a strange porcelain figure of "a grinning, bearded monkey dressed in an eighteenth-century wig, frock coat, satin waistcoat and breeches" with two of its arms snapped off, take him back to what had happened in the 1930s, and then to the wartime plot to assassinate Hitler.

The clergy, such as the retired old vicar Tom Dove, are sympathetically portrayed and come across as real people, as do interesting historical figures like Bishop Bell, the pre-war Dean of Canterbury who became Bishop of Chichester. who had, in the words of a sermon by Dean Ingrams, "dedicated his life to the cause of universal brotherhood .... Though his hopes were tragically dashed by the rise of the Nazis and the outbreak of war in 1939, he nevertheless continued to preach the gospel of love and forgiveness, not only losing all chance of future preferment by doing so, but bringing upon his head the anger and scorn of many, including numbers of fellow clerics and friends." He even made a speech in the House of Lords which "not only questioned the morality of flattening German cities, but had even expressed pity to those enduring the horrors nightly lavished upon them by Bomber Command".

Some of Harrison's actions (as when he covers up a supposed suicide) aren't always entirely convincing, nor is the grand finale when he struggles with the murderer high up on the cathedral roof, although there is an exciting lead-up to it. But the portrayal of the aggressive new Archdeacon Cawthorne, and of incidents such as the meeting of the friends of the cathedral, seem just right, and the interest is held throughout.

One oddity of the story is the brief mention of something that had happened to Harrison back in his prep school days in connection with "the bootman's unfortunate fall down the cellar steps", when the boy Harrison had removed a light bulb to make it look as though he had slipped in the dark. There is no further explanation of this - so we are left wondering what it was all about.

But it makes a good story, and is a real improvement on the first book. Recommended.

Midmight Come (1998)
Midmight Come has Colonel Harrison diverted from his administrative duties to investigate a poison pen letter, accusing a recently widowed parson of gross sexual misconduct with his female assistant, a woman seeking ordination. He accidentally stumbles on a horrific scene of a double killing, and finds himself involved in a maze of leads in which the proposed sale of an old charity cottage, and the short. violent life of Christopher Marlow, the 16th century poet, seem curiously intertwined.

Harrison becomes an ever more interesting character. He is even prepared to risk his own job and home, rather than break his word to help a couple about to be thrown out of a grace-and-favour dwelling on the instructions of Archdeacon Cawthorne. His wife Winnie cannot understand why they should risk everything just because of a hasty promise. She encourages him to persuade the couple to seek legal aid, but he feels he owes his loyalty to his immediate superior, the dreadful archdeacon. To encourage the couple to oppose the church, he feels, "would mean my pretending one thing and doing another".
"Winnie looked at him steadily. 'Isn't that exactly what you've been doing most of your life? Duplicity, I thought, was your special area of expertise!'
"Harrison winced, but made no answer. What she'd said was true: it was, God help him, exactly how he'd spent most of his adult life, and, in a sense, it described accurately what he'd been doing since the archbishop had seen fit to appoint Cawthorne archdeacon; pretending support for his cutbacks, whilst at the same time applying the brakes to their implementation and generally back-peddling as fast as he was able."

It's an interesting situation and, as always,the Canterbury cathedral background is convincingly described. So are the clergy, including that "still-living army of country parsons, eking out lonely lives in similar uncouth backwaters as the semi-impoverished ambassadors and plenipotenaries of a distant, fading power". And so is the way that "controversy, quarrels and rancour hovered about ecclesistical life as inevitable as gulls round a fishing boat". But there are also some thoroughly sympathetic characters as Harrison's good friend, Dean Ingrams.

In the end it is Winnie who shows Harrison how the double killings must have been the work of a third party. She tells him, "Richard, you've got to go and tell all this to Chief Inspector Dowling tromorrow". He doesn't, of course, but sets up his own trap to catch the murderer. It provides an exciting climax to an interesting book. Recommended.

There is an informative if strangely slow-loading website called Michael David Anthony produced by his friend Francis Pettitt, and an obituary from The Independent.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


The Becket Factor cover
The Canterbury settings are convincing, but the cover designs are not so realistic.
Midnight Come cover
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