The fourth in the Max Tudor series finds the MI-5 agent turned Anglican priest trying to figure out the best way to tell his bishop that he’s getting married. Well, not married, but handfasted because his fiancé is a pagan. Also, she’s pregnant. When Max gets a call that his bishop wants to see him, he’s certain that the man already knows and is calling Max to account.
Instead, he finds that the Bishop has a predicament of his own. Lord Lislelivet has survived a poisoning by fruitcake—a fruitcake made by Handmaids of St. Lucy of Monksbury Abbey, to be precise. The fruitcakes have become very popular, possibly because, as the Bishop says, the cakes pack “an astonishingly high alcohol content.” They are quite the fundraiser for the Abbey, so the Bishop is anxious for Max to investigate the matter and clear the fruitcakes. Also, there may be some questions about how some recent donations have been spent.
Max learns very quickly that His Lordship is not a particularly popular person, so the list of suspects is extensive. He also finds that while the Abbey seems harmonious enough on the surface, there are those who have strong opinions on whether or not things should be changed. There are those who feel the Abbey is moving too much into the mainstream, while others believe that if they fail to change the Abbey will go extinct: the number of nuns is dwindling, and few are interested in joining the order.
And, as is usually true, Max finds that everyone has secrets—even nuns.
I liked the previous entries in this series and this one is no exception. I also read Louise Penny’s mystery novels and I had the feeling this one was influenced by a couple of Penny’s works: The Beautiful Mystery and How the Light Gets In. Characterization was very good this time around; Max’s impending marriage and fatherhood are much on his mind and give him a nice added depth. I have some quibbles with the way the solution to the crime was laid out—none of which I can discuss without spoilers!—but otherwise it was a good addition to the series and one that I enjoyed more than some, aforementioned quibbles aside. There’s a good bit of humor in the books, mostly observations on human nature rather than slapstick comedy. For example, a character was described as being a member of the church of It’s All About Me.
Even though Max is a priest, the books are not preachy. Max’s religious beliefs are inclusive rather than exclusive, with respect for other religious traditions. There are times when Max questions why things happen, but he has found a peace in his new vocation that was sorely lacking in his old. As a former agent, he has no illusions about human nature but he is also a man of faith.
The Max Tudor series in order:
1. Wicked Autumn
2. Fatal Winter
3. Pagan Spring
4. Demon Summer
5. Haunted Season