It's not often a book keeps me up late three nights in a row, but A Vicar, Crucified easily kept sleep at bay this week where lesser books have failed. It's a murder mystery with a plot that has more twists than a hangman's noose, written by a former vicar who has the inside story on the many reasons why parishioners might reasonably want to murder their priest.
On the murder most foul scale, this is close to the far end of foul, with flippant priest Anton Fontaine, vicar of St Michael's Stormhaven (a quiet south coast town), nailed to a cross in his own vestry after the mother of all church meetings. The cast of suspects includes Bishop Stephen, who elevates himself by putting others down, Curate Sally, who likes to demonstrate she's in charge, and youth worker Ginger, whose temper is on a hair-trigger.
Helping the police with their enquiries (as witness rather than suspect) is Abbot Peter, recently returned to Britain from running a monastery in the Sinai Desert. And helping him is the enneagram, the psychological profiling tool which gives the Abbot deep insight into the motivations of the suspects.
The dialogue of the novel is especially satisfying for anyone who fantasises about telling others exactly how irritating they are. `I sometimes wonder if you belong here, Peter?' the Bishop tells the Abbot in a savage moment of passive aggression. `Have you ever thought of going somewhere you matter?' Simon Parke, before he did his vicaring, was a scriptwriter for Spitting Image, and his satirical instincts are on fine display in the novel.
Most of all, though, I enjoyed the psychological insights of the book, with Abbot Peter lifting the lid on his fellow human beings as they manipulate others and reveal their own desires. That gave me plenty to think about when I wasn't engrossed in the plot or trying to beat the Abbot in the race to discover the murderer. Which I didn't, of course.