The Office of the Dead (The Roth Trilogy)

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9780006496557: The Office of the Dead (The Roth Trilogy)

Final novel in Andrew Taylor’s powerful Roth Trilogy: ‘With all due deference to its heavenly virtues, this is a hellishly good novel’ – Frances Fyfield, Sunday Express

Janet Byfield has everything Wendy Appleyard lacks: she’s beautiful; she has a handsome husband, a clergyman on the verge of promotion; and most of all she has an adorable little daughter, Rosie. So when Wendy’s life falls apart, it’s to her oldest friend, Janet, that she turns.
At first it seems as to Wendy as though nothing can touch the Byfields’ perfect existence in 1950s Cathedral Close, Rosington, but old sins gradually come back to haunt the present, and new sins are bred in their place. The shadow of death seeps through the Close, and only Wendy, the outsider looking in, is able to glimpse the truth. But can she grasp it’s twisted logic in time to prevent a tragedy whose roots lie buried deep in the past?

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Review:

There are thrillers in which the use of language is pared down and functional to ensure the swiftest possible movement of the plot. But some writers have demonstrated that it is possible to utilise prose of the most elegant and sophisticated variety without sacrificing one iota of the riveting narrative quality. Andrew Taylor is one of the finest stylists in the genre, and remarkable pieces of work such as The Barred Window have made his books essential reading for the most discerning of crime enthusiasts.

The Office of The Dead, third in the Roth trilogy (The Four Last Things and The Judgement of Strangers), links the histories of two families, the Appleyards and the Byfields. It's England circa 1958 and Wendy Appleyard is in deep trouble. She's facing divorce with no money or work experience, so she looks to her oldest friend, Janet Byfield, for assistance. Unlike Wendy, Janet appears to be enjoying everything that life can offer: a good-looking husband, a loving daughter and an exquisite home in the Cathedral Close of Rosington. Her husband is an ambitious young clergyman, on the verge of promotion.

But there is the worm in the rosy bud: sins of the past begin to make a devastating claim on the present, and death comes to the Close, along with a mystery that reaches back to the previous century involving an ill-fated poet priest and opium addict called Francis Youlgreave. Wendy, as the outsider in this close-knit community, begins to suspect the truth about the dark secrets around her, and finds herself having to unlock a double mystery.

Taylor's theme, as in so much serious literature, is the inexorable hold that the past has over the present--and this is rendered in language of the most thoughtful and exuberant kind:

My mother thought Hillgard House would make me a lady. My father thought it would get me out of the way for most of the year. He was right and she was wrong. We didn't learn to be young ladies at Hillgard House--we learnt to be little savages in a jungle presided over by remote predators.
-- Barry Forshaw

Review:

‘Masterly… will have the reader turning back to check the identities of Taylor’s ambiguous characters and relish his fine writing’
Gerald Kaufman, Scotsman

‘It is in the domestic sphere that Taylor triumphs… A highly sinister piece of work Natasha Cooper, TLS

‘The writing is consistenly good’
Sunday Times

‘The intellect and the imagination are seized… Andrew Taylor has brought a major literary undertaking to a deeply satisfying conclusion’
James Melville, Ham & High

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