The Judgement of Strangers is the second in Andrew Taylor’s Roth Trilogy, an ideal choice for R.I.P.VII. This second book fills in some of the back story of the first, The Four Last Things, which I wrote about earlier. It covers events that took place in 1970 and although there is an atmosphere of suspense and mystery it is by no means as chilling and scary as The Four Last Things.
It’s narrated in the first person by David Byfield, who is a sexually frustrated, widowed parish priest with a mysterious past. When he marries Vanessa, his beautiful teenage daughter, Rosie, seems to accept her. But, it’s obvious that David is unaware of Rosie’s psychological troubles and is beset with problems – his own passions, the attentions of the menopausal spinster churchwarden, Audrey Oliphant, as well as his obsession with Joanna, the new young owner of Roth Park.
And then the murders begin and it seems that the influence of Francis Youlgreave, a 19th century opium addict, poet and priest who committed suicide at Roth Park is still prevalent. Vanessa is fascinated by him. The sole surviving member of the family, Lady Youlgreave, now senile lives in the Old Manor House with her equally senile dogs, Beauty and Beast. She allows Vanessa to study Francis Youlgreave’s journals. The pressure and suspense build, with the climax at the village fete, which ends in disaster.
In some ways this book is a bit like an Agatha Christie mystery – set in a village (there’s a helpful map), with a mix of characters, locals, gentry and newcomers. The plot is complex and although it can be read as a self-contained novel, it really is best to read the trilogy in order, because there are answers in this book to some of the questions posed in the first and I think it could spoil the suspense if you read them the out of order. There are also intriguing glimpses into the past. I’m keen to read the third book – The Office of the Dead – as soon as possible. And I’d like then to re-read them in reverse order, just to see the difference.