The Rev Dr Simon Weatherspoon

(creator: Michael Langford)

The Rev Dr Simon Weatherspoon (1839-1915) was a Fellow of (the imaginary) De Vere College, Cambridge. He "was actually not bad looking. He was slim and of medium height, with a slightly cranky, scholar's face, but overall still very much in his youth."

He was a clerk in holy orders in the Church of England as there was a Cambridge University "requirement that all college fellows have a least a nominal acceptance of church of England teaching", but he was not always sure that he even believed in God. "He hadn't been sure after some time how much of the Gospel stories he actually believed - that is, as history - but in a way perhaps it didn't matter because the stories, even if taken simply as stories, had immense power."

He was working on a critical edition and translation of the apocryphal book known as Second Maccabees, following the publication of his earlier First Maccabees, which had led to him being awarded his degree of Doctor of Divinity. He also has some less conventional literary interests which are revealed as the story unfolds.

The Rev Dr Michael J Langford (1931-2020), a former Chaplain of Queens' College, Cambridge,and then Professor of Philosophy and Medical Ethics at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, went on to teach part-time in the Divinity Faculty of the University of Cambridge. He was the author of A Liberal Theology for the 21st Century and other theological works, as well as the novel, discussed below. He is not to be confused with Michael Langford, the author of numerous books on photography.

The de Vere Papers (2008)
The de Vere Papers
is set in 1868. At De Vere College, Cambridge, the dons discuss Darwin, God, new literature and the fledgling Shakespeare Authorship Question. But the librarian’s blood is seeping from under his oak door, and the ancient manuscripts he had found are gone. Dr Simon Weatherspoon investigates. Is he entirely the respectable young clergyman he seems to be? When his extra-curricular life is disclosed, how will it define him in the eyes of feminist critic Theresa Brown? And can he discover the secret room containing the college's hidden treasure (including perhaps early drafts of Shakespeare manuscripts) before the murderer reaches him?

The Cambridge college and the period background (including the ceremonial circulation of Madeira and port) are very well described and Weatherspoon himself makes quite an interesting character. It is all very literary but it is also fun to read, although there are some rather slow-moving and ponderous sections before it reaches its dramatic, if not very convincing, climax.

Edward de Vere, after whom this book (as well as an outrageous novel by one Amanda Buzzard) is named, was, of course, a real person, and an Elizabethan courtier who some people believe was the writer of Shakespeare's plays. Such academic references contribute to the book's appeal, although the epilogue added by the author on "The plausibility of the DeVere hypothesis", with its five headings to be considered, does strike a slightly odd note.

Some of the conversations are rather stilted, as when in the grand climax, the master criminal's "face went white," and he told Weatherspoon, "You lie! You just don't like to admit that I have a finer brain than you and that I worked out a way of finding the treasure and covering all my tracks. You're the stupid one!"

But Weatherspoon's growing relationship with feminist book reviewer Theresa Brown holds the interest, as do his attempts to follow through the various clues to the college treasure, and you cannot help feeling that, despite some of the absurdities of the plot, you really get some sense of what it was like to be a fellow of a Cambridge college in the 1860s. Even incidental period touches are of interest, as when Weatherspoon decides to buy himself a London house "along with very discreet staff. Not a large staff, perhaps a butler, a cook-housekeeper and two other domestics."

Recommended, partly because it is so different from most crime thrillers! It makes a good academic joke.

There is a long 2015 interview with the author on the Cambridge University site, which also offers a useful transcript.

Please sign my GUEST BOOK. All comments, contributions (or corrections) welcomed!


The de Vere Papers cover
The colourful cover looks very appropriate.
The attractively presented paperback is illustrated by some engaging 19th century engravings - as well as by photos of the author's (and other) chess pieces.
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