From rockstar to Reverend, Richard Coles has probably had one of the most eventful lives of any of us.

Formerly one-half of The Communards, the 1980s music scene gave way to a theology degree in the 90s, and by 2005, the newly ordained Rev was making his way to Finedon, where he served as Vicar from 2011 to 2022.

Dubbed ‘Britain’s most famous vicar’, he was a regular on our TVs, even donning the sparkles for a trip around the Strictly Come Dancing dance floor in 2017.

Having written mostly non-fiction up to 2022, the Reverend then turned his hand to cozy crime, and with three books in the Canon Clement series, we begin our review with the first, Murder Before Evensong.

What is the Book About?

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty of the plot before we decide on whether or not it is any good!

Canon Daniel Clement presides over St Mary’s Parish as Rector of Champton, the village in which the book is set.

It is the 90s, and right now, the biggest scandal to hit the village is the suggestion by Daniel that they install a lavatory at the back of the church. Cue the gasps of horror!

Most of the parishioners are horrified by the idea, but soon, the idea of a new loo becomes the least of their worries.

One of the villagers is about to be murdered in the church sending shock waves through the community.

How hard can it be to figure out whodunit? After all, Champton St Mary’s is a relatively small place, and there are only so many suspects.

But with no motive and plenty of people hiding secrets, getting to the truth is going to be trickier than Daniel imagined.

Who’s Who?

Our main character is Canon Daniel Clement, who lives in the rectory with his mother, Audrey, and his two dachshunds, Cosmo and Hilda.

He also has a brother, Theo, an actor who has just landed a role as a Vicar and decides to shadow Daniel as prep.

Next up is Lord Bernard de Floures, who is not only the patron of the church but a member of the landed gentry whose family has owned most of Champton, including Champton House, for hundreds of years.

Bernard is on his third wife and has three children. Hugh is the reluctant heir, followed by Alex and Honoria.

Also living in the house is Anthony Bowness, Bernard’s cousin, who has come to live with them.

Working for them is the reclusive Edgy and his grandson Nathan who live on the land and keep the grounds maintained.

And, after that, we have the villagers, mostly older ladies who survived WW2 and have settled into a life of flower arranging and baking.

So now we know what the book is about and who the main players are. But what about the murder and the whodunit??

The Crime

The murder takes place quite a ways into the book. And I won’t give any spoilers as to who the victim is because it’ll ruin the first part of the story as you get the lay of the land.

But this is where it gets tricky. Most novels in the cozy crime genre have a pattern.

We get to know all the characters involved, somebody gets murdered, everybody is shocked and the detective, amateur or otherwise, follows the clues and ultimately reveals the killer in an aha moment.

And, if you’re really lucky, clues will be left along the way so that you, too, can play along.

Not so with Murder Before Evensong. Even when the victim is murdered in the church, Daniel doesn’t really make any attempt to solve the case.

He merely spends his time trying to hold the village together. It is only when a second person is murdered that he starts to seriously think about who’s running around bumping off the residents.

Nothing is ever revealed, and honestly, even when the story came together at the end, it was a bit anticlimactic.

The ‘who’ was out of left field, and the ‘why’ was bordering on the ridiculous. So, from that point of view, it was a bit of a letdown.

That said, the characters are very well written and their interactions with one another are top notch.

I genuinely liked Canon Daniel Clement and would happily read the next book in the series, but maybe with the hope that the story is better-paced and that the plot overall is tighter and more coherent.

Once I’ve given it a go, I will be sure to let you know.

What is Evensong?

So with a title called Murder Before Evensong, it’s helpful to know what Evensong actually is.

I’m not overly familiar with the Church of England and all its nuances but given that Reverend Richard Coles wrote the book, it’s to be expected that there will be plenty of CoE references.

Of course, the main one in this book is Evensong, which, honestly, I had to Google as I’d never heard of it.

So if you’re in the same boat as me, here’s what it is….

Evensong is a traditional evening prayer service in the Church of England. It is part of the liturgy of the Anglican Church and is often held in the late afternoon or early evening.

The service includes readings from the Bible, prayers, and hymns being sung by the choir.

And overall, the whole service is known for its serene atmosphere and peaceful contemplation.

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