Father Gabriel

(creator: Fiorella de Maria)

Father Gabriel is a Benedictine monk, based at Saint Mary's Abbey in rural Wiltshire. He is approaching middle age, and has a "dusting of silver over his once black hair". He feels that his ability to concentrate is beginning to let him down, but he still has an obsessive need to follow things through. The author explains elsewhere that she saw his portrayal as "an affectionate look at aspergers", a condition she knew all about. He describes himself as "one of life's observers" and "was more worldy-wise than anyone would ever suspect" and can tell when a story does not ring true.

Fiorella de Maria was born in Italy of Maltese parents (she is not letting on when) but moved to England as an infant and grew up in rural Wiltshire. She was awarded a B.A. in English literature and an M.Phil. in Renaissance literature at Cambridge University, and then began publishing historical and crime fiction novels. She won the National Book Prize of Malta for her debut novel. She has also written in the field of bioethics with titles such as The Abolition of Woman, and How Radical Feminism Is Betraying Women. She is a practising Roman Catholic and her work is published by the Catholic American Ignatius Press. She lives in Surrey with her husband and four children.

The Sleeping Witness (2017)
The Sleeping Witness is set around 1947 and describes how the post-war tranquillity of Saint Mary's Abbey is shattered by the discovery of a gruesome crime in a cottage in the abbey grounds. A foreign artist and supposed war hero seeking refuge from the world has been murdered. Marie Paige, the frail, sickly wife of the village doctor, lies beside him, beaten into a coma. The police arrest Marie's husband convinced that they are looking at a crime of passion.

Enter Father Gabriel, a blundering but resolute Benedictine priest who believes in Dr Paige's innocence and feels compelled to search for the truth. It is a quest that takes him back to dreadful experiences in the concentration camps before he is able to reveal the truth about what has happened. I am afraid I did not find it a totally engrossing story, although many Amazon reviewers seem to have enjoyed it.

Father Gabriel seems to spend more time outside the abbey than in it (ready to engage in breaking and entering if necessary) and does not make a very convincing monk, any more than Inspector Applegate makes a very convincing Inspector (his bullying interrogation of murder suspect Dr Paige does not sound all that real). There is a lack of exciting action, as the author prefers to use lengthy conversations to describe what has happened, and some of the dialogue sounds strangely stilted as when the abbot comments. "A little context helps a fellow enormously" and when Dr Paige tells Gabriel, "I'm going to hang. Oh God - sorry, Father but - oh God!" This is one of the few occasions when God even gets a mention.

Other books in the series are The Vanishing Woman (2018) and See No Evil (2020) but I shall not be reviewing them.

The author has her own website and there are interviews with her on the National Catholic Register and The Catholic World Report sites. She has a mock interview with Father Gabriel on the Women Writers, Women's Books site, and there is a 42 minute video interview with her (mostly about See No Evil, a subsequent Father Gabriel novel) on the Ignatius Press site, as well as further interviews on Facebook sites.

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The cover hardly suggests the religious life.
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