William Brodrick’s Father Anselm books never fail to meet my expectations. They are thought provoking and philosophical concerning moral dilemmas and on top of all that they’re crime fiction – an ideal combination for me. The Discourtesy of Death is the fifth Father Anselm novel and there is nothing simple or easy to solve in this book, be it the ethics or the crime, or whether Jennifer’s death was actually a crime at all.
Jennifer Henderson, a young woman, an acclaimed ballet dancer, was paralysed after a fall and later diagnosed with terminal cancer. She died and for two years her death was accepted as a peaceful death, a result of the cancer. But then an anonymous letter casts doubt on the matter – was her death assisted suicide, or murder?
Father Anselm, the lawyer-turned-monk, is asked by his Prior, who had received the letter, to investigate, even though there is no evidence of murder and on the face of it no suspects. So, this is by no means an ordinary investigation and Anselm has to work hard to get to the truth. Jennifer’s family and friends are the focus of his search and as he reviews the details of Jennifer’s last day he realises that any of them could have done something to her; but who, what and why?
The book explores the philosophical, moral and theological issues of the right-to-die, the questions about the nature of life and the choices available, whether mercy killing to stop another person’s suffering can ever be justified. Because of this the pace is slow, almost leisurely, even with the added drama of Jennifer’s father’s actions as part of the SAS in Northern Ireland, which continues to haunt him.
I was drawn into some of the red herrings, but in the end it was the question of what Anselm would decide to do with what he had discovered that exercised me. It left me wondering about the issues raised, which are thoroughly explored throughout the book with the implications of the various outcomes clearly stated.
One final thought about life and death comes from Anselm as he watched the fleeting appearances of the fish in the river, their flashes of bright silver disappearing so quickly before his eyes:
And, elevating his mind above carp and trout, Anselm thought that the glory of life – even brief and trimmed down to the point of seeming insignificance – remained utterly breathtaking. That death, with all its power, would always be the one who came afterwards, the latecomer who’d missed the party.
Whilst I don’t think The Discourtesy of Death is quite as good as the third Father Anselm book, A Whispered Name, which I thought was brilliant, it is still an excellent book, that I thoroughly enjoyed.
There are five Father Anselm novels, and I’ve read them out of order, so I’ve still got the fourth book, The Day of the Lie left to read.
- The Sixth Lamentation (2003)
- The Gardens of the Dead (2006)
- A Whispered Name (2008)
- The Day of the Lie (2012)
- The Discourtesy of Death (2013)