Friday’s Forgotten Book: Arrest the Bishop? by Winifred Peck

Winifred Peck (1882-1962) was born Winifred Francis Knox; Golden Age mystery writer Ronald Knox was her brother. She wrote over two dozen works of fiction and non-fiction, including two mysteries, The Warrielaw Jewel, 1933, and Arrest the Bishop?, 1949.

While Arrest the Bishop? was published well outside the Golden Age timeframe, it employs the Golden Age setting of a large country manor, actually a bishop’s palace, in the winter days leading up to Christmas. It also takes place in 1920, making it an early historical mystery, as Martin Edwards points out in his thoughtful introduction to the 2016 Dean Street Press edition.

The Bishop of Evelake is preparing for the visit of the Chancellor and the Canon of the Diocese a few days before Christmas to participate in the ordination of a half dozen new deacons and two new priests. His elder daughter decides to visit that weekend without notice, which worries him and his wife, as she is more than a little impulsive and her presence tends to be disruptive, something he does not need while his superiors in the church are present. In addition, she left her husband and found a replacement before actually divorcing the husband, which is certain to shock everyone, if they find out.

Even worse, a cleric who has been a thorn in the Church’s side for years is demanding attention again and shows up without notice. Reverend Ulder pilfered from the various charity funds he was responsible for in his parish and Church officials moved him to a country church with little activity to prevent further depredations. They decided against legal action because of the consequences of negative publicity to the Church. He is well aware of the reason for his demotion and decides to emigrate to America. He has collected unsavory information about nearly everyone and plans to blackmail the Bishop, the Chancellor, and the Canon, as well as a few others, to pay his way. Reverend Ulder dies soon after he arrives at the Bishop’s residence of a morphine overdose which he could not have administered to himself.

Chief Constable Mack, a staunch Presbyterian with a deep dread of the Church of England, assigns himself to the homicide investigation. He is sure that the Church is behind the sudden death and that he is justified in cutting a few corners, such as conducting searches without warrants, which earned him an irate interview with the Chief Magistrate. Of course the Church has nothing to do with the murder but it is a close call for the Bishop.

The story is set firmly in the aftermath of World War I, with a running commentary on the servant shortage and multiple references to wounded soldiers. However, a sly reference to one of Margery Allingham’s books published in 1949 reminded me that the book was really written much later.

A fine Golden Age read with some memorable characters.

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