Robert Barnard Unholy Dying

ISBN 13: 9780007102914

Unholy Dying

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9780007102914: Unholy Dying

England's celebrated, multiple-award-winning master crime novelist returns with a witty and poignant chiller about the evil of gossip and the sin of indifference. Father Christopher Pardoe is a good priest. He cares about his parishioners. He is also a human being -- and is thus saddled with man's inherent weaknesses. Is it a bit odd, then, how much time the good Father has been spending at the house of a certain young, single mother called Julie Norris? And why, during each of his visits, are Julie's bedroom curtains always closed? Julie looks to be pregnant again. Just who could the father be? As nasty rumors begin to scorch the parish phone lines, Father Pardoe is suspended from St. Catherine's, and Cosmo Horrocks, the West Yorkshire Chronicle's shameless, muckraking journalist, exploits the story in a big way. Nothing goes over better than a juicy sex-and-the-church scandal, except, perhaps, murder. Do Father Pardoe and Julie protest too much? Why did Julie's parents throw her out and disown her? Is she really as bad as they say? And what, exactly, does Cosmo Horrocks hear in that London-to-Leeds dining car that makes him tingle with excitement? A tale of chastity besmirched? This story could make his year. But will it lead to tragedy? And, if so, whose? When Inspector Mike Oddie and Sergeant Charlie Peace are called in to investigate a murder, they are saddened and surprised by the raw emotions -- the hate, the fear -- they find in the outwardly peaceful town of Shipley. There may be only one killer, but there are many others who must share the town's guilt and, perhaps, one day start the process of healing. Rich with eccentric characters, crispdialogue, stylish prose, and perceptive insights into human nature, Unholy Dying is vintage Barnard, acknowledged master of suspense.

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About the Author:

Robert Barnard (1936-2013) was awarded the Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Nero Wolfe Award, as well as the Agatha and Macavity awards. An eight-time Edgar nominee, he was a member of Britain's distinguished Detection Club, and, in May 2003, he received the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement in mystery writing. His most recent novel, Charitable Body, was published by Scribner in 2012.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1: Scent of Scandal

"It's worrying," said Mrs. Knowsley.

Her friend looked at her sharply. Madge was usually a cheerful individual, naturally so, anxious to see the best in everyone and everything, ready to look forward hopefully to a happy outcome of every difficulty. They were standing just inside Madge's back door, in the little side street on the edge of Pudsey, between Leeds and Bradford. Usually they stood on the step outside, but today Madge had drawn her inside.

"Why?" Lizzie Cordell asked. "Why is it worrying?"

"Not knowing, I suppose. Wondering."

Her friend considered this. There must be more to it than that.

"Didn't they tell you anything?"

"Said he was going through a difficult time and needed to get away for a bit."

"That tells you something and nothing, doesn't it? Get away from what, or from where?"

"Well, from Shipley. He's been priest there for ten years or more."

"It's only eight miles away. Not far to move if he's going through a spiritual crisis."

Mrs. Knowsley looked at her friend.

"What are you thinking, Lizzie?"

"Maybe they need him close -- to hand, like. In case they need to question him."

"You mean he may have done something wrong?"

Her friend looked at her pityingly.

"Well, that is what's been worrying you, isn't it, Madge?"

Madge paused for a moment, afraid to bring things into the open. Then she nodded.

"I suppose so...Yes, it is...He's a nice man, Lizzie. A lovely man. And a real gentleman."

"Anyone can go off the rails, Madge, real gentlemen as easily as anyone else."

"I know that, but...it tears me apart, Lizzie."

"What does?"

"To see him like this. He never goes out, except once or twice he's been out after dark. And one time I knocked on the door to his room, got no reply and thought he must be out, and when I went in he didn't hear me, but he was sitting in his chair with his head in his hands. I could swear he was crying."

Her friend considered.

"What did you do?"

"Tiptoed out and went away."

Lizzie looked her straight in the eye.

"You do realize it's not your problem, Madge?"

"Of course I do. But I like him, Lizzie. We talk and he seems so warm, and wise, and...the thought of him sitting up there alone and suffering, not doing anything except mulling over what's happened, and not knowing what it is..."

"I can see that. What do you talk about? Can't you bring the conversation around to his troubles?"

"Oh, no. We just talk about trivialities. The weather, what he'd like for his dinner, that sort of thing."

Lizzie wondered how Madge's lodger had been warm and wise on those particular topics. She just said, "Couldn't you bring the conversation around to more important things gradually?"

"With time, I suppose. But I want to help him, Lizzie. Now."

"He's a priest, Madge. He must have resources in himself, or people to go to. The Church helps its own, you know."

"Too much so, sometimes. Oh, you don't think it could be boys, do you? Children?"

"I don't know, do I? I've never even seen him. But I do think you shouldn't get too involved. For your sake, but for his sake too. If there's been wrongdoing, there's bound to be rumors, and you don't want to be part of those rumors."

Mrs. Knowsley looked distressed and confused.

"No. I suppose not."

"Leave it to the Church. They'll sort it out. They'll give him whatever help he needs."

Mrs. Knowsley's voice took on an unusual edge of sharpness.

"They seem to be giving him precious little help at the moment."

The eyes of both women went up to the ceiling, as if expressing both human concern for the man upstairs and a hope for heavenly guidance.


Father Pardoe sat slumped in the easy chair in his dimly lit bed-sitting room. In his waking hours there he only did three or four things: Peered cautiously through the window at the world of activity he was used to engaging with; walked up and down the room, hoping that his footsteps could not be heard by Mrs. Knowsley in her sitting room, but unable to refrain from this limited exercise; lay in bed looking up at the ceiling; and sat slumped in the chair, as now, looking like a wreck of his once vigorous, upright self.

Sometimes he thought he would never come to terms with what had happened to him. Now and then he wondered that his own Church, the valued superiors whom he had counted as his allies or friends, could have so little understanding of what he had done, and why. At other times he tried to be more clear-eyed, to free himself of the weak instinct to blame others, and to tell himself that his troubles, this terrible burden of guilt and rejection, were something he had brought on himself, by his own actions, and by his disregard of possible interpretations of them. But when he told himself that, when he mentally tried to put himself in the dock on that charge, he could never believe it with more than half his mind.

Because the other half cried out that the Church -- his Church, his bishop -- was not really concerned with what he had done, but with appearance: They worried how it would seem, how it would be seen, what people would say. The whole business disgusted him. They had barely looked at the facts, or at the moral issues; had not wanted to discuss them. That much had been clear from the Bishop's telephone call, the memory of which still left him angry. They had been more interested in PR, in damage control, in keeping everything, if humanly possible, under wraps. It was the same instinct that had led the hierarchy in Ireland to shift priests who had abused altar boys on to other parishes where they abused more altar boys. How could his Church do this? How could they worry not about what he had done, but only about what people would think he had done?

That people would talk he had no doubt. Probably it was already seeping out, getting passed around in whispers throughout the parish. He was certain that would happen, not because money was involved, but because a woman was. A young woman. An attractive woman.

He had an image of Julie Norris in his mind's eye. The short, blonde hair, the appealing, bewildered eyes, the little boy held in the crook of her arm as she talked to him in her drab, poky kitchen. The image was very dear to him, one he cherished and did not try to put away. He had no illusions that his regard for Julie was without lust. There had been other women before her, women for whom he had felt a special affection, women with whom he might quite easily have fallen into sin. But he had not -- not with them, and not with Julie.

What he had done, with some of them, was try to show them, by special attentions, what they meant to him. That was surely innocent, or comparatively so? The thought struck him that what it really was, was pathetic. But he was sure that at the time it had seemed to him lovely -- a beautiful way to show his regard. He came to see that it could cause jealousy among the ladies of the parish, however, and once he realized this he had tried to cloak his special regard in decent wraps.

The wraps were gone now, at least as far as his superiors were concerned. Now, in the prison of this little bed-sitting room, the image of Julie came to him, but only briefly and wanly. What pushed it aside was the image of his shattered career -- which meant his shattered life. He was ashamed of this preoccupation, of the worldliness that it betokened, but somehow he could not resist it. His life as a parish priest was over, his reason for existence in pieces. His hopes of future advancement now appeared ludicrous, absurd. What future he had he did not know, but he faced the fact that it did not involve the respect, the flattering attentions, the warm regard that over the years he had come to take for granted. Still less could he nourish dreams of preferment

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Robert Barnard
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (2001)
ISBN 10: 0007102917 ISBN 13: 9780007102914
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