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Cruel Habitations    by Kate Charles order for
Cruel Habitations
by Kate Charles
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Cruel Habitations is the latest of Kate Charles' ecclesiastical mysteries. In it the author has updated the traditional British mystery small village format to one of a town set around a cathedral close. The insular society found there among the various religious personnel, with their ambitious scheming and political intrigues, works very well as a background for murder. It is also a fascinating new setting for readers not familiar with the complex Anglican church hierarchy. Charles' first five books featured Lucy Kingsley and David Middletown-Brown as the detective team. However, her latest three (Unruly Passions, Strange Children and this one), are all stand-alones without repeating characters.

Cruel Habitations takes place in two different locations at times separated by eleven years. Alison and Jacquie Barnett live in the small town of Sutton Fen in a repressively conservative religious family. In 1989 they escape to Greece for a two week holiday before Jacquie's marriage. In the year 2000, Sophie Lilburn and her husband Chris move from London, where Sophie was a successful photographer, to the cathedral town of Westmead where Chris takes a job at the cathedral school. Westmead, although beautiful and picturesque, proves a cruel habitation indeed for Sophie as she struggles with both loneliness in the new setting and the agony of infertility.

Charles skillfully links the lives of the two main characters, Sophie and Jacquie, as the former is drawn into investigating the unsolved murder of a young woman found bludgeoned to death near the cathedral. The book abounds with well-drawn characters, with the type of probing of their psyches that one finds in books by Elizabeth George. As a quote on the book jacket (from the Guardian, London) says, Charles' books are 'a blood-stained version of the world of Barbara Pym'. What more could an Anglophile reader want?

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