The Black Seraphim by Michael Gilbert
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
About 40-45 years ago I used to read a lot of British mystery classics. I found them well written albeit not particularly interesting, with notable exceptions, such as, for example, Anthony Berkeley's "Trial and Error", Peter Dickinson's "A Pride of Heroes" or Josephine Tey's "Brat Farrar". I have been curious how my literary tastes changed in almost half a century.
Michael Gilbert is mainly famous for his "Smallbone Deceased", but I chose "The Black Seraphim" to begin the rediscovery of the "classics". The plot of the novel takes place in Melchester, a small town in southern England, famous for its cathedral and medieval architecture. Dr. Scotland, a young pathologist from London who had connections with the town in the past, returns to Melchester to have restful vacations after several years of overwork. Obviously, he will not have a chance to rest. A serious conflict is brewing between prominent church personalities, the Dean and the Archdeacon, and what's worse, there is also an underlying conflict of business interests between various factions of the town elite. When a notable dies in unclear circumstances, Dr. Scotland volunteers his help.
Mr. Gilbert's prose is remarkably cultured and his observations of Melchester's upper crust are sharp. However, there are way too many characters, and without writing names on a piece of paper I would not be able to keep track of who is who. The plot is set up in quite a leisurely manner; the introduction takes exactly one-third of the novel. The book is not that old (1984), yet it reads as if it were written in the Sixties. The denouement is satisfactory, but not memorable in any way.
It may be a great read, just not quite for me.
Two and a half stars.
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