The Rev Tobias Campion

(creator: Judith Cutler)

Judith Cutler
The Rev Tobias Campion first appeared in a short story, which Judith Cutler had been asked to set in the Regency period. He comes from a aristocratic family (his father is a duke) and was educated at Eton, before getting his degree at King's College, Cambridge. It was then he decided to get ordained, much to his father's disapproval. He moved to the small unfashionable rural parish of St Jude's at Moreton Priory in Warwickshire. There he at first employs his old childhood friend, Jem, as his groom. "Our friendship had even survived my time at Eton. But our ways had diverged when I went up to Cambridge and his becoming a groom set us irretrievably apart." But he is still prepared to lend him a hand in mucking out the stables. Tobias is a humble man. "To my governess, my school and my university, I owe my intellectual education, but it was from him (Jem) that I had my moral one. And yet he is now my servant, dependent on me for his food and clothes. I often think that he should be the clergyman, I the groom." Later on, Jem becomes the village schoolmaster.

Tobias's friend, Dr Hansard, describes him as "a wellset-up lad ... breaking young ladies' hearts wherever you go, I dare swear". As Pastor Campion, he believes he is doing God's work. He really cares for the poor and is appalled at their living conditions, and the way they are treated. In the bleak winter, he exhorts his parishioners "each week from the pulpit to share what little they had". And he sets up the school where villagers knew there would always be warmth and a solid meal for their children. He wishes he had more space available so that he could do more.

Judith Cutler (1946 - ) has published over twenty contemporary novels, including two detective series set in Birmingham. She has also written prizewinning short stories. The Keeper of Secrets was her first historical crime novel, although her historical short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies all over the world.

She was born in the Black Country in England, and later moved to Birmingham. She read English at Birmingham University, then went on to teach full-time at an inner city Further Education College until her first novel was published in 1995. She subsequently taught Creative Writing at the Continuing Studies Department at Birmingham University, and elsewhere. She is married, with one son, and lives in Kent. She aims to write two books a year. Also see Jodie Welsh.

The Keeper of Secrets (2007)
The Keeper of Secrets is set in early 1810, when young parson Tobias Champion, who tells the story, is taking over a small Warwickshire parish. But his first night in the village, when he is staying with Lady Elham ("a distant but generous cousin of my mother"), gets off to a bad start when he has to prevent a rich young blood from molesting the pretty housemaid, Lizzie Woodman.

Befriended by the local doctor, Edmund Hansard, and the capable housekeeper Mrs Beckles, Tobias soon settles into his new role. He finds there is plenty to keep him busy in the parish, but beneath the quiet village life Tobias has a troubling sense that all is not quite what it seems. Meanwhile he has formed an increasing admiration for young Lizzie, but it turns out that he is only one of three competing for her attention, one of the others being his old friend/groom Jem. Previously he had been used to enjoying the services of a valet and numerous other servants, but now, he says, "A country parson needs a man - or rather, woman - of all work, rather than someone to devote himself to the care of his garments. So all I shall need (apart from Jem) is a housekeeper-cook."

Then there are the suspicious deaths of a poacher, and of Lord Elham himself, and a mysterious attack on Tobias, before Lizzie disappears. Tobias and Dr Hansard set about investgating what has happened, uncovering dark secrets as they go, and endangering themselves and others.

The period atmosphere (the extreme contrast betwen rich and poor, and the sheer misery of prisons and asylums) is well captured: "It appalled me that what I would once unthinkingly have spent on a suit of not extravagant clothes would have fed a family - nay, two or three families - for a year." But that does not stop him and Dr Hansard doing a grand shop-up in Bath: "The best that could be said of us was that .... neither of us wasted money on ourselves, a modish suit of clothes each apart. True, Dr Hansard found a new bag for his medical needs, and I well-made gloves, but these were necessities rather than luxuries, as were the boots we discovered we both required." This nice sense of humour enlivens the whole story.

At one point, Tobias reminds Lady Elham's housekeeper, Mrs Beckles, that "Here in Moreton St Jude I am a gentleman no more."
But she lifted her chin. "With respect, sir, being a gentleman has less to do with birth than behaviour ... Up at the Priory I see fine lords behaving like savages, and working men as charitable and gracious as if they had been born with a whole canteen of silver spoons."
"Mrs Beckles," Tobias replied, "I think you have just given a better sermon than I shall ever hope to do."

I learnt a new word, too: nuncheon. It does not appear in my dictionary, but an entry on the net explains that it was the Victorian name for a light meal, from which the word luncheon eventually evolved.

Rather more of the detective work is done by Dr Hansard than by Tobias, but he remains an interesting character, strong on active responses to people's needs, if less concerned with theological issues. When asked by the now distinguished Dr Toone (whom Tobias recognises as his bully at Eton), "I'd have thought with your family you would not need a career to support you, youngest son though you might be. Why the Church, for God's sake?", Tobias smiled."It was precisely for that reason. I had the honour of taking Holy Orders not to embark upon a career, but for the sake of God, or," he added, "more accurately for the love of God." And that's just about all that he has got to say about his religious motivations.

But all makes a lively and interesting and, despite some of the grim conditions, an entertaining story. Recommended for its sense of period and its fun.

Shadow of the Past (2008)
Shadow of the Past sees Tobias Campion, young Rector of Moreton St Jude, pleased to welcome the widowed old Lady Chase who is taking up residence at Moreton Hall. But she has unwanted visitors: her late husband's unpleasant nephew, Sir Marcus Bramhall, and his family are making a prolonged and unwelcome stay. Lady Chase's son and heir, Hugo, has long been missing, presumed dead, and Sir Marcus, as heir presumptive, is busy trying to move Lady Chase out to the Dower House.

The Bramhalls' governess disappears from the household on the very day that the body of a stranger has been found in the local river. When it transpires that this man might have been bringing news of the missing heir, Tobias and his loyal groom and friend, Jem Turberville (disguised as a fellow clergyman!) set off on a dangerous hunt through the slums of London to discover the truth. While in London, they stay in Tobias's father's grand house in Berkeley Square. His father is away shooting in Derbyshire: "Heaven forefend that my father decide to visit the capital - he is so high in the instep that the presence of his groom's son (Jem) in the best guest chamber might drive him into an apoplexy," Tobias laughed, not entirely sure that he was joking. Once again it is Tobias who tells the story throughout, but it is his much older friend Dr Edmund Hansard who joins them in London who usually takes the lead.

The bitter cold and hardships of life in the countryside and in London in the early 1810s are well described, and there are some nice touches of humour as when Tobias describes how "I found myself listening to music by that vehement German, Herr Beethoven". The contrast between the lives of the rich and poor (such as the irrepressible 10-year-old slum child Willum) is vividly brought out, as are the strict dilineations of the caste system. Jem may in some senses be Tobias's friend but he is ever conscious of his "place" in society, and the necessity of keeping in it.

Tobias's simple piety remains unchanged. When the local coroner tells him, "Surely if you sought reconciliation with your family you too could live like a prince ...."
"Forgive me my plain speaking, Mr Vernon, but you must understand that to become a clergyman was my choice. No! it was the Almighty's choice for me. All I had to do was acquiesce. There have been some dark moments since I accepted my calling, but believe me, that have been more than compensated for by the joy I encounter daily as I serve my Master."
Vernon took a deep draught. "You sound like a dammed Methodist to me. But you are a good man, and keep a good cellar, so maybe I shall forgive you."

Altogether it makes an intriguing story even if some of the ingredients (including Tobias falling in love, getting rejected, being knocked out etc) may sound rather familiar to those who have read the previous book.

Cheating the Hangman (2015)
Cheating the Hangman describes how on Easter Day the Reverend Tobias Campion discovers a crucified corpse. After a post-mortem examination fails to identify the victim, Tobias and his old friend, Dr Hansard, pledge to uncover the truth.

Meanwhile he had had other problems: his archdeacon had wanted him to take services at the village of Claverton, just 10 miles away, as its own vicar seemed to have taken extended leave abroad, but where the villagers had turned out to be remarkably hostile. Tobias, who tells the story throughout, could not understand it. He "spent a long period in silent prayer ....I had long learnt not to expect an instant response, knowing that any divine revelation would come in the Lord's good time."

Tobias never gives up but gets increasingly curious about this strange disappearance of the local vicar. The local gentry are far from helpful and there is even talk of devil worship, and his own life is endangered. Eventually, of course, everything gets sorted out although the ending (and indeed the whole plot) is far from convincing. It was interesting, though, to see the introduction of a lesbian Lady who liked to dress as a man, and I was intrigued by a single (accidental?) use of the word luncheon amongst all the frequent mentions of nuncheon.

Judith Cutler has her own website.

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The Keeper of Secrets cover
The covers effectively suggests the Regency period.
Shadow of the Past cover
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