The Reaper - Peter Lovesey In addition to his Inspector Peter Diamond series, Lovesey writes other equally literate crime novels. This one reminds me of those written by James Cain in the fifties. Its truly despicable villain is the Reverend Otis Joy, Rector of St. Bartholomew’s in Wiltshire. Joy likes to have a good time, and to do so requires a steady source of money. Where better to find it than the church coffers? That he is popular with the parishioners does not hurt to allay suspicions, but finally the bishop makes the mistake of confronting Joy about the very strange discrepancies at Joy’s previous assignment. Joy, naturally wishing to remain at his post with ready access to his extraordinary income, bashes in the head of the bishop, throws him over a cliff, makes calls to a famous sex phone service using the bishop’s credit card, and leaves a remorseful note to explain the suicide. When the elderly treasurer, with whom he had a nice little arrangement to keep his slush fund secret, wants to resign, Joy manages to poison the old man so that it looks like a heart attack.
Accountant Bernard Sands, miffed at being passed over as the church treasurer and a detail freak, is suspicious and begins to wonder why and how the rector’s first wife had died. An investigation reveals that she died of a freakish bee sting while in the shower, something Sands finds hard to believe (ironic, because we learn later, she is the only one of several wives Otis had not killed).
In the meantime, Otis enlists Rachel Jordan, unhappily married, and desperately infatuated with the good reverend. And he really is a great parish priest. Everyone loves him; he has a great sense of humor, and really enjoys being a parish priest. He just has this problem of killing people who might reveal any one of several secrets he has. He kills Rachel’s friend Cynthia when she follows him on his day off and discovers that Otis owns a magnificent forty-foot yacht. Rachel, in the meantime, despairing over her relationship with her husband, poisons his spicy curry with monkshood, a plant that grows wild and was used decoratively in gardens. It contains aconite, a virulent toxin called “stepmothers’ poison” in the Middle Ages. It was so commonly used to eliminate the unwelcome and unwanted during Roman times that the Emperor Trajan forbad its cultivation. It eventually fell out of favor because the vicious neuropathic symptoms were so obvious, but it could also be confused with a heart attack.
If you are looking for a Hollywood ending, this book is not for you, unless you like rooting for the bad guys. Lots of fun.