So as I said I was reading too many books at once and not finishing them, but I have now finally put paid to The Becket Factor by Michael David Anthony. I spotted this on a book exchange at work. Retired intelligence officer now working for the Canterbury Cathedral’s Delapidations Committee Richard Harrison is forced back into his former career when a retired clergyman dies mysteriously. Harrison’s estranged wife is not pleased with the reappearance of his old boss, but then for no real reason their estrangement ceases and they grow close again. I don’t really mind this. Winnie helps Richard out, though it would help him more if he listened to her when she points out he’s jumping to conclusions on little to no evidence.
The other major events are the choosing of the new Archbishop and a coffin dug up that dates back to medieval times and could be the bones of St. Thomas Becket. (The á I remember reading in the past is apparently not contemporary, a later addition to perhaps draw parallels with Thomas á Kempis.) I found this book strangely readable although many things about it irked me a great deal. Harrison was in intelligence throughout the Cold War and doesn’t know what a sleeper is. The investigation quickly centers on Maurice Campion, an outspoken, anti-war bishop who’s a front runner for the archbishopric, for reasons I’ve already forgotten. Probably because they weren’t good.
It seems like Anthony is too busy trying to make an atmosphere between the mysterious coffin, the memories of causing the death of an Eastern Orthodox priest, the vandal disturbing the cathedral community, his relationship with his wife and his former boss, to focus on a good, coherent story. Parts of it are good, and the intelligence stuff is a bit Le Carré, but there’s just too much other stuff which makes the whole work seem like there are too many ingredients for one dish. What is the Becket Factor? Hard to say, really. The phrase means different things to different people and in the end isn’t a factor. Harrison is a lousy investigator. He hardly talks to anyone about Cratchley and therefore learns a number of things much later than he need have done. And -spoiler- you might think a cathedral community could tell the difference between a woman and a man in a cassock, but you’d be wrong. I certainly thought people who attend church almost every day would be experts on this topic. And supposedly the Queen attends the enthronement of the new Archbishop, but there’s no security around for her. Yeah, right. And it turns out that the Queen doesn’t actually attend enthronements, so this was an unnecessary (and inaccurate) detail.
I’m of two minds whether to read any more of his works. On the one hand, I was interested to find out what happened, the marriage was well-written, I thought, and some of the intelligence plot was clever. And since this was the first, he may have gotten better. On the other, see above. From reading his obituary, I’ve just learned he didn’t intend The Becket Factor to be a crime novel, so that might explain some of the focus on atmosphere, relationships and philosophy and lack of investigation, evidence and clues.
Looking for other reviews and info on the Google, I discovered a site which shows the leaves of a book about Becket possibly written by the 13th century monk Matthew Pariswith the following quote I thought very interesting:
The archbishop answers to that:
“May it not please God who made the world,
And for us suffered death on the cross,
That there not be a third voice,
For the pope by false counsel
Could make a false judgment.”