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The Chorister at the Abbey

A Norbridge Chronicles Mystery by Lis Howell

The Chorister at the Abbey by Lis Howell

Review: The second in the Norbridge Chronicles mystery series, British author Lis Howell's The Chorister at the Abbey is another good old-fashioned whodunit. A pleasant but a bit lengthy read, it combines threads of historical research, genealogy, religion and imaginative twists and turns as characters fall in love, wrangle, and struggle to discover their self-identities while simultaneously striving to identify the murderer among them.

As befits any good story, The Chorister at the Abbey has a strong plot and credible characters involved in interesting activities against an authentic background. There are several recognizable references to the first novel in the series but the main storyline here is the discovery of the whys and wherefores for the murder of the town curmudgeon, Morris Little, found face down in a hallway at the music department of Norbridge College with his teeth smashed in and a psalter beside him that conveniently and quickly disappears. The immediate suspects are two local teenaged thugs but there is a possibility that the two people who found the body might be implicated as well. And as the story progresses there is lots of dust and clues for the reader's eyes as other characters begin acting suspiciously, revealing secrets from their past and even their present, and exposing their motives for wanting Little permanently dispatched from the chorus at the Abbey. There are some secrets around a missing book of psalms, another murder near a convent with its own historical secrets, and a chilling conclusion when the heroine, Suzy Spencer, has a harrowing near-death escape in a surprising, chilling conclusion before a church candlestick becomes a preferred weapon of choice.

Family relationships play a major role in the story too, not only in the daily to and fro of relationships among the teenage protagonists but also between their parents and between a couple straining to overcome the memories of their previous marriages. Another couple also has histories they'd prefer to keep hidden, but know they've got to come clean with each other about alcoholic binges and a mysterious former girlfriend if their love is to last. Even the pastor and his wife struggle to keep their vows. Then there are the politics of the appointments at the Music Department in the College and the raucous bluff and well-meaning bluster of the Department head's husband Freddie Fabrikant as occasional comic relief. Interwoven as well are snippets of references to iconic Victorian churchmen, organized religions, breakaway sects and bizarre cults and to Sir John Stainer "a prolific composer of church music," although he had no real-life connection to the setting for the story. Reinforcing the theme of the novel is the use of a quotation from a psalm to introduce each chapter.

A typical British whodunit, The Chorister at the Abbey goes to show good mysteries don't always need gobs of guts and gore to be entertaining and rewarding reading.

Special thanks to M. Wayne Cunningham ( for contributing his review of The Chorister at the Abbey.

Acknowledgment: Soho Press provided a copy of The Chorister at the Abbey for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — M. Wayne Cunningham — All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with Permission

Location(s) referenced in The Chorister at the Abbey: England

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The Chorister at the Abbey by Lis Howell

The Chorister at the Abbey by A Norbridge Chronicles Mystery

Publisher: Soho Constable
Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-508-9
Publication Date:
List Price: $24.95

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