by Kate Charles
When Father Gabriel Neville receives the first blackmail letter, he has everything to lose: his reputation as an Anglican priest and scholar, an expected promotion to archdeacon, his loving 10-year marriage to Emily, and his twin son and daughter.
His anonymous blackmailer has threatened to reveal a gay relationship Gabriel had before his marriage that may have resulted in his lover’s suicide. The only person he can think to turn to is a long ago friend David Middleton-Brown.
David, a lawyer, is recovering from the death of his eternally critical mother two months earlier. He welcomes the opportunity to get away from his mother’s house, especially as his invitation was offered under the guise of overseeing the repair of an architecturally significant chapel at St. Anne’s Church.
The reunion is bittersweet. Once David and Gabriel were lovers; David has loved no one since. He was deeply hurt by Gabriel’s abandonment — and hurt again to discover that David had been seeing other men even before he married. But he agrees to help David try to find the blackmailer before the deadline.
There are plenty of suspects among Gabriel’s parishioners from the devouter-than-Jesus Dawson family to the slightly fishy and grandiose organist Miles Taylor to the passionately anti-gay church warden Mavis Conwell. As David gets involved in the parish’s activities, he grows to appreciate Emily, Gabriel’s wife; her beautiful and talented friend Lucy Kingsley; and Lady Constance Oliver, the elegant patroness of the church.
One reviewer has called Charles’ work “Barbara Pym with blood.” Both writers set their stories in the terrarium-like world of Anglican parishes, and the various people — humble and vain, impoverished and wealthy, charitable and mean-spirited — who keep them going. Pym wrote many of her books in the early 1950s; Charles’ books include the challenges of women clergy. Both write sympathetically of openly gay characters.
A Drink of Deadly Wine is a gem — flawed, but absorbing. and a surprise to the very end. Her characters are well-drawn and interesting. The flaws are subtle: for a variety of reasons, Father Neville isn’t an entirely likeable character and it’s difficult to understand why David would come to his aid, given how their relationship ended. It was equally hard to believe that Father Neville, who had had several gay relationships before his marriage, would suddenly become a faithful heterosexual.
That said, it’s a testament to Charles’ exquisite rendering of the St. Anne parish and its inhabitants that you want to read more.
And fortunately, there are more books to read in the Book of Psalms series. The books that follow A Drink of Deadly Wine (in order) are:
- The Snares of Death (1992). David teams up with Lucy to investigate the murder of a zealous Evangelical clergyman in a staunchly Anglo-Catholic English village.
- Appointed to Die (1993). David and Lucy are on the scene again when the ruthless ambitions of the new Dean of Malbury Cathedral head toward murder.
- A Dead Man Out of Mind (1994). When a female priest becomes vicar of St. Margaret’s church, she’s faced with the seemingly accidental death of a parishioner.
- Evil Angels Among Them (1995). Glorious angels and a medieval Doom painting adorn 15th century St. Michael’s Church, but the surrounding Norfolk village is unholy. The rector’s new bride is receiving unpleasant phones calls that threaten her confidence in her own sanity; a new couple in town finds an unexpectedly chilly reception; and a gruesome death shatters any suggestion of peace in the community. Father Stephen Thorncroft calls on his friends David and Lucy to uncover the evil afoot.
The Author: Kate Charles (1950 – )
Born Carol Fosher in Cincinnati, Kate Charles lives in Ludlow, Shropshire, United Kingdom, with her husband Rory Chase. She earned a degree in library science from Illinois State University and a master’s degree from Indiana University.
Charles has written a second mystery series featuring the Reverend Callie Anson, who faces challenges as a woman clergy member in a tradition-bound church and in building a relationship with police officer Marco Lombardi. The books in this series are Evil Intent (2005), Secret Sins (2007), Deep Waters (2009) and False Tongues (2015).
She has also written three stand-alone mysteries — Unruly Passions (1998), Strange Children (1999), Cruel Habitations (2000). For fans of mysteries in the ecclesiastical world, Unruly Passions features Margaret Phillips, one of the first Anglican archdeacons, and Cruel Habitations features Sophie Lilburn, who leaves London with her husband for a small English town so he can sing in a cathedral choir.