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False Tongues, by Kate Charles.

April 11, 2015

False Tongues, by Kate Charles.  Marylebone House (2015), Paperback, 288 pages.

3 stars

A person-centered mystery with multiple plots, featuring a young woman priest in the Church of England and a teenager found dead in a London park.

Kate Charles is a prolific mystery writer who was born in the United States and later moved to England. Her novels often focus on individuals in the Church of England and how it is served by  all too human men and women. This is her fourth in her series about Callie Anson, a young woman becoming an Anglican priest. While reading the book, however, I had no sense that it was part of a series.

Alternating chapters in False Tongues follow the various subplots of the book. Callie returns to the theological school in Cambridge for a reunion with others of her graduating class from the previous year. Her return reignites her feelings about a man she had loved while a student. Another plot-line involves the murdered body of a teenage boy from a prosperous family. Callie has only indirect involvement with the murder or the secrets surrounding it. The man she now loves is part of the investigation, but he is not the primary detective in charge. Other subplots develop around the boy who was killed and his family and friends, the family of the priest who is Callie’s supervisor, and various individuals she encounters in Cambridge.

Recently it seems that every book I read has the structure of alternating chapters following different narratives. Perhaps authors find this an easy way to introduce varied characters and issues. For mystery writers it may be a way to involve the characters in previous books in a series. Some writers handle this structure better than others. I find this approach tends to make books broad and shallow rather than delving deep in characters or issues. That may be what authors and readers want. I am currently longing for a book with one central, chronological story.

Yet, False Tongues is an engaging book which includes interesting characters and issues. I liked how Charles treated the gay men in the book; with casual acceptance in most cases but with sensitivity to their particular problems in others. The institutional church setting was unusual and women priests like Callie are still a novelty for some. The treatment of religion was not heavy-handed, although the useful guidance from the older priest became a bit preachy.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy mysteries focused on character rather than gore.

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