I’m always on the lookout for new mystery series, and a few weeks ago I came across a fictional detective named Father Anselm, a brother at the Larkwood Catholic monastery in England. He’s a former barrister, familiar with the workings of criminal law, judges, and the Old Bailey (or Royal Courts of Justice).
In The 6th Lamentation by William Brodrick (first published in 2003 in Britain and 2004 in the United States), Father Anselm unexpectedly finds himself doing detective work, and all because of a man arriving at Larkwood and asking for sanctuary.
The year is 1995. The first issue that has to be tackled is that the man seems to have nothing wrong. Second, sanctuary is no longer a church practice. Third, the brothers gradually learn that the man is suspected of being a Nazi war criminal, who as a young Gestapo officer helped deport thousands of Jews from Paris to the death camps in the east.
Father Anselm is drawn into the case of the man, and is sent to the Vatican in Rome when the monastery seeks guidance. Officials there are more than mildly interested; it turns out that a sister monastery in France may have helped the Gestapo officer and a fellow French police collaborator escape to England.
The 6th Lamentation would have been a fascinating story with this as the narrative arc, but Brodrick layers in a second story, that of Agnes Aubret, who was almost 21 at the time of the fall of France to the Germans. Her father was Jewish; she is given “total Christian” identity papers to help her survive occupation and help a clandestine group smuggle Jewish children out of the country. But she was caught and sent to Auschwitz, and the German and the collaborating Frenchman were involved. Agnes survived, married an Englishman, and eventually settled in London. She believes her own child, born out of wedlock, did not survive the war.
In his own life Brodrick reverses the story of Father Anselm. He was a friar in the Augustine order before he became a barrister and a writer. He’s written eight of the Father Anselm mysteries, with The Whispered Name winning the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award in 2009. Born in the UK but having spent a portion of his life in Canada, he holds both British and Canadian citizenship. He, his wife, and three children live in France.
Nothing is as it seems to be in The 6th Lamentation. Heroes and villains change roles, and more than once. It is a story of how the past is never really the past but continues to affect and change the present. It’s an outstanding story.
Top photograph: The German Army matching on the Champs Elysses after the surrender of France in 1940; via Bundesarchiv and Wikipedia.