(creator: Michael David Anthony)
Richard Harrison is an ex-Intelligence Officer who has become Secretary of the Diocesan Dilapidations Board for Canterbury. He had been a young army officer in the Royal Engineers when he met Winnie, an art college student. They had got engaged within a week, then got married on his first leave. As the cold war deepened, he got seconded to counter-intelligence, then to full-time intelligence work in Austria. "Content, they'd waited for the children to come. Instead came the polio." But even in a wheelchair, she had joined her husband in Cyprus where Grivas and his EOKA gunmen had begun their attacks. There they had made friends with Seferiades, a Cypriot leader, for whose eventual death they both felt guilty. Harrison went onto serve In Kenya. Malaysia and Northern Ireland, but all these overseas postings and the secrecy of his work "had drawn them apart until they were almost lost to each other".
Then "to save his marriage, he'd wrenched himself free, resigning his commission and retreating to these cloisters (Canterbury) and the dull decencies of diocesan work". Winnie, still in a wheelchair, wants him to have nothing more to do with the Intelligence Service. So does he. But he still chooses to use his old title of Colonel.
He is not always an entirely sympathetic character, and is quite prepared to lie his way out of an embarrassing situation. He is "normally reticent, rather shy and awkward", and can be "grumpy and irritable", and very pompous too as when, visiting a very deprived area, he introduces himself by saying, "Excuse me disturbing you - I trust I haven't chosen an inopportune moment. I represent the Canterbury diocese. I wonder if I might have a word". Yet, although at first , he often seems to get things wrong, his sheer persistence wins through in the end. He may be, as he puts it, "an outmoded antique" who dislikes any idea of change, but he is driven by his conscience to do what he believes to be right.
Michael David Anthony (1942-2003) was the son of Welsh parents, his father being an Anglican parson, so he grew up in country vicarages. On leaving Wells Cathedral School (which he increasingly disliked), he did not go to university but worked as a cub reporter on a regional newspaper and travelled widely in Britain and abroad, working in a variety of occupations.
He studied at the universities of Helsinki, East Anglia and London, tried being a student at Gray's Inn, and taught in schools, colleges and universities in Britain and overseas. In 1978, he joined the staff of Woolwich College of Further Education, where he spent the rest of his teaching career. He also worked as a freelance journalist and radio scriptwiter. He was the author of three Richard Harrison books and two thirds of another novel, eventually finished by a friend. He had been planning to write a fourth Harrison book when he died of a heart attack, aged 61.
The Becket Factor (1990)
Harrison's life with his invalid wife has its ups and downs. When he took her out to a meal, she "hadn't been greatly surprised .... Treats and scrupulous over-attention had always been his way of disguising the deserts between them". But "to her surprise, she found it no mere token, but a reaching out, an attempt, as it were, to recover lost ground. Something had happened, something had brought him back to her." In the end she realises "it was love that had brought him back" and "indirectly, the mysterious coffin was involved". All very puzzling.
Harrison seems far from an ideal agent: he keeps getting caught in incrimidating circumstances, and it is a very long time before, right at the end, in a highly melodramatic finale (when an attempt is made to assassinate the archbishop in the middle of his enthronement service) the murderer is finally revealed.
Dark Provenance (1995)
The cathedral and its environs are well described: "Sunlight, streaming through the tiers of lancet windows, cast radiant pools across the pavings beneath. Dappled in shadow and light, the double line of fluted columns soared up though slanting shafts of dust-moted brilliance to the criss-crossed rib vaulting under the roof, where at every intersection the gilt bosses gleamed down like huge golden eyes on the heads of the .... congregation eighty feet below."
But then there is the discovery of the body of a man who had apparently fallen out of a moving train, and who turns out to have had links with Harrison's past. Next, a clergymen dies in very odd circumstances. Harrison's investigations, inspired by a strange porcelain figure of "a grinning, bearded monkey dressed in an eighteenth-century wig, frock coat, satin waistcoat and breeches" with two of its arms snapped off, take him back to what had happened in the 1930s, and then to the wartime plot to assassinate Hitler.
The clergy, such as the retired old vicar Tom Dove, are sympathetically portrayed and come across as real people, as do interesting historical figures like Bishop Bell, the pre-war Dean of Canterbury who became Bishop of Chichester. who had, in the words of a sermon by Dean Ingrams, "dedicated his life to the cause of universal brotherhood .... Though his hopes were tragically dashed by the rise of the Nazis and the outbreak of war in 1939, he nevertheless continued to preach the gospel of love and forgiveness, not only losing all chance of future preferment by doing so, but bringing upon his head the anger and scorn of many, including numbers of fellow clerics and friends." He even made a speech in the House of Lords which "not only questioned the morality of flattening German cities, but had even expressed pity to those enduring the horrors nightly lavished upon them by Bomber Command".
Some of Harrison's actions (as when he covers up a supposed suicide) aren't always entirely convincing, nor is the grand finale when he struggles with the murderer high up on the cathedral roof, although there is an exciting lead-up to it. But the portrayal of the aggressive new Archdeacon Cawthorne, and of incidents such as the meeting of the friends of the cathedral, seem just right, and the interest is held throughout.
One oddity of the story is the brief mention of something that had happened to Harrison back in his prep school days in connection with "the bootman's unfortunate fall down the cellar steps", when the boy Harrison had removed a light bulb to make it look as though he had slipped in the dark. There is no further explanation of this - so we are left wondering what it was all about.
But it makes a good story, and is a real improvement on the first book. Recommended.
Midmight Come (1998)
It's an interesting situation and, as always,the Canterbury cathedral background is convincingly described. So are the clergy, including that "still-living army of country parsons, eking out lonely lives in similar uncouth backwaters as the semi-impoverished ambassadors and plenipotenaries of a distant, fading power". And so is the way that "controversy, quarrels and rancour hovered about ecclesistical life as inevitable as gulls round a fishing boat". But there are also some thoroughly sympathetic characters as Harrison's good friend, Dean Ingrams.
In the end it is Winnie who shows Harrison how the double killings must have been the work of a third party. She tells him, "Richard, you've got to go and tell all this to Chief Inspector Dowling tromorrow". He doesn't, of course, but sets up his own trap to catch the murderer. It provides an exciting climax to an interesting book. Recommended.
|The Canterbury settings are convincing, but the cover designs are not so realistic.|