My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have begun reading the two series by G.M. Malliet: St. Just and Max Tudor, both set in England. It's a little strange that I should pick this book to write a review of, the third book in the second series of hers that I've read. But, the spirit catches you and you fall down. (Wait, that's a different book.)
I love mystery novels. I've read all of the Agatha Christie books I could get my hands on. I have thought about it and I believe that there are three aspects that I love: Characters, plot and the puzzle. In that order. I know a lot of mystery readers try to figure out whodunit before the end. I won't say that I don't do this, but it has never been the main attraction for me.
So, Pagan Spring, the third book in the Max Tudor series. We have an ex-spy (Max Tudor) who has decided to become an Anglican priest and ends up in a delightful village called Nether Monkslip. (I am always a sucker for delightful villages.) The first book in the series, Wicked Autumn, did a wonderful job of introducing the main characters in the village. So, when in Pagan Spring I read a tiny snippet about Lily Iverson, I was already familiar with her as a person from having read Wicked Autumn. This made me happy, made me feel a bit like an insider. With Max you don't get a James Bond sort of feeling. He's not brooding or arrogant. Along the same lines, he's not a cocky Poirot. Max is real, has very real feelings of self-doubt, regrets and love. It's convenient for him (usually) that he is a beautiful man who draws record attendance to his small St. Edwold's Parish church.
Not many of the people who live in the village are from the village, but they all seem to come together to make it whole. Gabby Crew is a relative newcomer and an intriguing character who adds an epistolary touch to the story with the emails she sends to a recipient – known only to her for most of the book. Even Suzanna Winship, who seems to be chomping at the bit for a bigger and better social life, has a place here, because what village doesn't have somebody who longs for just that? After three books in this series, I long to taste Elka Garth's pastries; I dream about them when I should be working. And, what village would be complete without a witch? Except that Awena Owens isn't a witch, she just has a new-age/quasi-pagan approach to life, love and spirituality. I feel that the "Writers' Square" adds to this feeling of family; it is a sort of embodiment of the sentiment. How else to describe people who come together to get on each others' nerves and defend each other to their dying breath?
I found myself trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together in my head, to figure it all out before the ending chapter revealed all. I had this desire much more in Pagan Spring than in any other of the Malliet books that I've read. It started with the opening - the Prologue. I had to go back and read it several times, trying to tease from it a clue and/or its place in the overall book. I had to reread several parts of the book, trying to pick up on the stray sentence that I had overlooked, the phrase in the dinner scene that could tip me off.
Rereading these parts was not a burden. The prose is beautiful here. Some of it I have been tempted to transcribe onto a canvas and embellish with other images and found pieces to make a literary collage. Malliet has placed me off the beaten path, in a tucked away village in South West England. I feel that I know these people. When I finally did finish reading it, I had to sit for a couple of days and ponder the story before reading anything else. Some books are that way; you have to savour them for a little bit before moving on.
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