Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Black Seraphim: Michael Gilbert

A description from the back of my paperback ediition:
James Scotland, a young pathologist, has come to Melchester on a much-needed vacation. But amid the cathedral town's quiet medieval atmosphere, he finds a hornet's nest of church politics, town and country rivalries. . . and murder. When one of the community's most influential figures dies suddenly (and very publicly), Scotland uncovers some curious alliances among church, state, and big business. Modern forensic pathology, the age-old mysteries of the church, and a bit of unexpected romance all play a part as Scotland unravels the unsettling truth about Melchester.
This is the fourth novel by Michael Gilbert that I have read, and it is my favorite so far. The other novels I read were from earlier in his writing career. However, I have read his first book of Calder and Behrens stories, Game Without Rules, and that series of stories would also be in contention for favorite. There are eleven stories in that book, and they are all about two spies, Mr Calder and Mr Behrens.

The Black Seraphim and Close Quarters, Gilbert's first novel, have the same setting, the Melchester Cathedral close. Otherwise, there is no connection between the two, and this one was published 36 years after Close Quarters. When reading Close Quarters I was at a loss as to the relationships of the residents of the Cathedral. I had heard of vicars, but knew nothing of deans and archdeacons and canons and vergers. An Episcopalian friend of mind explained  the liturgical ranks, and now it is clearer to me, at least clear enough to read the story without being totally at a loss.

Which is a good thing because a major issue in the Melchester community has caused a rift between the archdeacon and the dean, and this book seems to be more about a political community and business relationships than a religious community.

One of the quotes on the back of my edition says "there is no turning back for the reader who begins The Black Seraphim." That was so true for me. Once I got into the story, I had a hard time putting the book down.

I liked the protagonist, James Scotland. He is inquisitive, intelligent and a pathologist, so it makes sense that he can tell when something is not right about a death.  Amanda, the Dean's daughter is also a wonderful character, forthright, honest, with high expectations of others. I liked the romance, not sweet and sentimental at all.

See also this review at Peggy's Porch.


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Publisher:  Penguin, 1985 (orig. publ. 1984).
Length:      216 pages 
Format:      Paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      Purchased at Planned Parenthood Sale, 2013..



19 comments:

  1. Tracy, I'm glad you enjoyed it, but it not one which excites me to be truthful.

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    1. No, not your thing at all, Col. I was fascinated by it, though.

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  2. I think it's really interesting, Tracy, that this novel is also set at Melchester, although it takes place years later. It took me a bit if time, too, to work out the relationships among all the clergy, etc.in Close Quarters. It's good to know they play a role here, too. Glad you enjoyed this so well; I may have to put it on my list.

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    1. It is amazing that I finally understand more about the church's structure after all this time, Margot. I like the cathredral close as a setting very much, confusing or not.

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  3. One of my very favourite crime writers, Tracy. I have read all the novels and most of the short stories. Glad you enjoyed this one - you have more treats in store!

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    1. Yes, Christine, I am looking forward to reading more by Gilbert. I have at least four more on my shelves to try. It was your blog, I am sure, that alerted me that The Black Seraphim was another book set in a cathedral close. Either in your post about reading Michael Gilbert's books, or the one about books set at cathedrals, or both.

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  4. I binged on Micheal Gilbert books a couple decades ago. Your fine reviews are motivating me to read more books by this wonderful author!

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    1. Thank you, George. I wish I had discovered his books sooner.

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  5. Each time you sell me on Michael Gilbert here, Tracy, I click over to Amazon for yet another crushing disappointment. No Kindle editions! ;'(

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    1. That surprises me, Matt. I thought that since a lot of the books had been reissued in trade paperbacks by House of Stratus that they would also put them out in ebook format. But that is not true. and it is a shame.

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  6. So glad you liked it too,Tracy! I’ve been picking up Gilbert’s books since reading your reviews on them. Thanks for the link up!

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    1. I have had this one for a while, Peggy, and picked the perfect time to read it.

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  7. Oh you've tempted me: I was just wondering what book I would start next, and perhaps it should be this one. I read it years ago and remember nothing...
    I live in a Cathedral town like the one in the two books, and after a long time I finally have an idea about how it works - the key is always that the Bishop is very senior, but the Dean has all the power IN the Cathedral, and the Archdeacon annoys everyone.

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    1. How cool to live in a Cathedral town, Moira. Your description of the Dean and the Archdeacon sounds like that in this book. It was hard for me to tell who had the power, and it seemed like it was split and depended on the person's influence. Just fascinating.

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  8. This is an author I do want to read. Just curious if you've read Colin Cotterill? The Coroner's Lunch? When you mentioned the protagonist is a pathologist it just brought him to mind, thats all. --Keishon

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    1. Keishon, I have read two of Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series. I like them a lot, the setting and the supernatural elements. I have several more in the series and I look forward to reading those too.

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  9. I missed this review, so now I'm catching up, Tracy. I really do love Micheal Gilbert's books and this is one I haven't read - somehow I overlooked it. Will definitely be getting a copy sooner rather than later. I am an instant gratification kind of gal - especially when it comes to authors I love.

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    1. Michael Gilbert is a fairly recent discovery for me, Yvettte, and now I want to find all his books. I have a few more on the TBR before I run out.

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