Interesting book but substantively slow paced. I was about 13 chapters in when the main character even got the job that would take her on the mystery. Over a third of the way in I realized if the book hadn't put "thriller" on the jacket, I wouldn't have been able to guess if I were reading a ghost story, a human condition novel about problems in two entangled families or something else altogether. But even though you can go several chapters at a time without much happening, I still mostly enjoyed those chapters. It just isn't a "beach read" or something you'll run through in a few hours.
Taylor's writing is long-winded but fun and intelligent. His main character is a woman, separated from her husband in the 1950's, yet still very much full of character, bright red lipstick (well, then again, what other colors were there then), sass, and even atheism, which had to put her at odds with everybody at the church where she worked. It definitely made her unique and enjoyable, even at her most grumpy of times, which were most of the time, ha. She makes a slew of clever observations, she has a crush on the wrong person (haven't we all?), and was just someone I plain liked. I imagine sexism & atheism would have made life much tougher for her than Taylor presented, but that wasn't the focus of the story and he'd already digressed all over the place. Obviously, as Taylor wrote this, we'd found out the Catholic Church had covered up evidence of crimes against children, and there's a nod to this here and there, that churches are akin to businesses with consumer-driven needs and public relations efforts.
Why ding it a couple of stars if I liked the writing? Because there is so much animal cruelty it's hard for anyone who has half a heart to read it without getting lifted from the fun of the mystery and feeling entirely bummed out. This doesn't start up until around the halfway point, but it makes up a lot of the second half. It was difficult to gloss over and keep reading or even want to keep reading. I am grateful that the characters in the book found those violent acts worthy of bringing up (I have in my head a bit of doubt that people cared as much then as now), but it's not something I would have picked up to read had I known before hand.
The Office of the Dead is the third volume in Taylor's Roth Trilogy, in which his readers come to understand how a little girl evolved into a serial killer. Wendy Appleyard leaves her husband after discovering his infidelity, and, not knowing where to turn, takes refuge with her friend Janet Byfield, now married to a handsome, up and coming C of E clergyman. The Byfields are pleased to welcome Wendy, who can assist Janet in the running of her household, which encompasses their daughter Rosie and Janet's elderly, rather senile father, Mr. Treevor. Almost immediately, Wendy perceives that all is not well. Mr Treevor engages in some very inappropriate, unsettling behaviors, and five year old Rosie is aloof but precocious. The Reverend Byfield is more concerned with his career than his family, and Janet prefers to downplay the significance of the increasing strangeness that surrounds them.
This is a tautly structured novel which builds, with commendable subtlety, to its unsettling climax only a few pages from the end of the saga. The metaphors that recur throughout the series (the sound of wings, church and domestic architecture, poetry, and biblical quotes, to name a few) serve as omens of things to come, and motifs that seem puzzling in the first volume (The Four Last Things) become clear at last.
In 1958, Wendy Appleyard feels like life is over for her at the ripe old age of twenty-six. She is broke with no job yet is thinking of divorcing Henry, her husband of five years after seeing him humping a wealthy widow. Desperate, Wendy turns to her long-time friend, Janet Byfield for solace and a bit of security as she tries to turn her life around.
From Wendy's perspective, Janet lives the perfect life in Rosington with her happy marriage to devastatingly handsome clergyman David and their precious daughter Rosie. However, perfection is in the eyes of the beholder. Instead, former transgressions surface that lead to new misdeeds. Death has arrived in this small cathedral city and only Wendy, not being part of the community, begins to see the links to the late 1890s and a fifteenth century witch burning. However, will she fully understand what is happening in time to stop a future calamity?
THE OFFICE OF THE DEAD, the third tale in Andrew Taylor's chilling Roth Trilogy (see the exciting THE FOUR LAST THINGS and THE JUDGEMENT OF STRANGERS) is an enjoyable village mystery. The story line centers on how the past, even the distant centuries, retain a grip on the present and future. The characters seem real and the mysteries are exhilarating. However, it is Mr. Taylor's ability to use beautiful prose to invoke imagery that entices the audience into thinking about their own links to the past that makes him so good and this trilogy worth reading.