|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)
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.
|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.|