Father Martin
(creator: David Bland)

Heritage Mystery cover
Father Martin is a 12th century Benedictine priest and monk who is Preceptor of Bellins Gate (the modern Billingsgate) on the Thames in London. This is "the one point at which arrivals to London by river during the hours of curfew could be allowed ashore". Administering it earned the monks of St Peter's Abbey, the West Minster, the right to levy tolls. But it seems that Father Martin has all the time he wants to go mystery solving: the "little convent of priests and lay brethren maintained the work and the worship of the establishment punctiliously - if not enthusiastically - during the preceptor's often unannounced absences."

We are told that "Martin's talent to unravel mysteries was significantly dependent on his facility for non-consciously collating his visual perception of another person with the tone of voice and mannerisms, set in the location. What could which person have done, given the circumstances in which they were set? These questions resonated with other memories that were remote from the particular events. Somehow, somewhere, outside his understanding, Martin's perception of human situations went far beyond the evidence that can be gathered directly by any ordinary mortal of another."
Not very illuminating, is it? What a pity we could not have had this explanation in plain, simple English. But that, as will become apparent, is not something the author readily takes to.

Father Martin was "at most thirty years of age .... naturally sallow and with a sprightly manner". He "was a smallish, youngish, down-to-earth looking fellow". He had been summoned from the Abbey of St Mary at Gloucester (where he had been a postulant) to become Preceptor just two years before. He had been a monk for a dozen years.

Dr David (Edward) Bland (date of birth?) is a graduate of Durham and Sheffield Universities and holder of five professional qualifications (the initials after his name read OBE, BA, MLitt, PhD, FCII, FCIPD, FSCA, MIRM, and FRSA!) He was a university teacher for 25 years, ending as pro-vice-chancellor of Sheffield University. He became director general of the Chartered Insurance Institute, and was awarded his OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to training in the insurance industry. In 2002 he was appointed chairman of the postal consumer body for southeast England. He is also on the Court of two of the Livery companies of the City of London. He subsequently became a member of the board of the Consumer Council for Water.

He has published a dozen books, including Principles and Practice of Insurance which is printed in 14 languages, and more than 90 papers. He had his only novel, Father Martin and the Hermitage Mystery, published by Janus, a small British firm specialising in self-publish and subsidy publishing books by first-time authors.

Father Martin and the Hermitage Mystery (2005)
Father Martin and the Hermitage Mystery is set in London in 1157. Father Martin, monk and priest, is, as Preceptor, in charge of Bellins Gate on the Thames. He visits a friendly local hermit who had found a headless body in his water butt. It had been wrapped in a rich green Irish cloth. Then, the hermit tells him, five weeks later he had found three heads "set on stakes and facing my very door!" It is just the sort of challenge that Martin welcomes. Clearly these were no everyday killings and the King, Henry of Anjou, is one of those who needed an explanation. Martin set out to unravel the mystery. He could not rule out a political link or an Irish connection, at a time when Henry was planning an expedition to take over the wayward territories of Ireland.

This turns out to be a prolonged and rather uninteresting story that is hopelessly handicapped by the author's pompous stilted style: "He (Martin) needed to apply no conscious cerebration to reach the tentative conclusion that the bridgemaster's visit bore some relationship to the state of the river".
Or here's another example: "The reduced scale of charges that they (the Irish towns) remitted to the indigenous Irish hierarchy enabled the leaders of that robustly individualistic ecclesiastical structure to reinforce its independent attitude in relation to the centralising tendencies of the Roman curia".
When he wants to explain that Martin gave a brief answer, he puts it like this:
"Martin delivered an extremely economical elucidation".
He explains later that
"Martin found that a tendency to prolixity could be persuasive with literate men" - but it's certainly not good advice for an author.

Characters do not really come to life, They do not so much talk to each other as deliver long lectures. So the book starts with pages about bridge construction. Here is how the Bridgemaster of London Bridge "chats" to Martin: "A timber structure has a limited life: each member has to be replaced as it reaches the point where it can be dangerous. The timber that is buried beneath the river bed or submerged all year beneath the water lasts longest, and the surface of the roadway wears out the quickest. Most unpredictable is the durability of the structures that lie beween high and low water. Not only do these members suffer from salt damage and fresh-water plant growth, but the different seasons and small variations in the climate bring new life forms that batten on the bridge, only to be killed off in the next frost or carried away in a flood. Such creatures may burrow into the wood to leave their eggs, and often the eggs pass into a grub stage during which the grubs eat the wood within the posts ...."
And so it goes on - and on. It doesn't even have anything to do with the plot.

Then there are lectures on Irish cargo boats and Irish history. This time it is the author's narration: "The Irish had no significant history of Saxon invasion; their most ruthless attackers for well over a millenium had been the Norsemen, from whom many of the Anglo-Normans who settled in England with the Conqueror were descended. If settlers came to Wexford or to Waterford as subjects of an English king - whether their latest journey began in Rouen, Bourdeaux or an English port, and regardless of whether they asserted French, Viking or Jewish ancestry - they were accounted as English in Ireland. The power that purported to have the authority to grant the settlers a civic charter was English. Now that England had a powerful king, the logic shared by most courtiers suggested that once the Scots and the Welsh frontier problems were resolved, the continual demands of the church and of the merchants for an end to anarchy and bloodshed must be heeded ...."
And this too goes on and on. It is, we are told, the sort of "political chatter" Martin had heard from his fellow West Minster monks and others.

The main mystery is actually solved just after half-way through the book. Throughout, there is a lot of talk but little exciting action - and altogether too much lecturing. It seems a pity that an author with such a distinguished career had not chosen to write about something that came more directly out of his own experience.

There is little about the author on the web except references to his academic and public appointments.

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The cover seems highly appropriate. It is a pity the text is so stilted.
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