One February evening in the year 1968, Fr
Wilfred, the parish priest of the Sacred Heart Catholic church in Droitwich,
tumbles out of his confessional, stabbed to death. His older sister demands
the best detective in the force, and Stan Wickfield is appointed to the
case. Unfortunately he cannot identify either the means or the motive of the
murder, much less the perpetrator.
His investigation leads him through the highways and byways of tensions in
the Catholic Church in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and brings him
face to face with anti-Catholic sentiment in the local population. His
suspects include an eccentric and learned septuagenarian spinster who spouts
d’Azeglio every time they meet, a school technician rejected for the
priesthood because of his sexuality, the custodian of Kenilworth Castle and
a bookmaker with a taste for anti-papal sentiment. Motives for the priest’s
death waver confusingly between contempt for his office, disapproval of a
teenage indiscretion, personal hatred and suicide. Wickfield is at his wits’
end until his wife’s reading – a novella by Nicholas Montserrat – prods him
towards a triumphant solution.
The story comes to a dramatic climax in two sermons preached by the dead
priest’s curate, Fr Gabriel.
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