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The Salisbury Manuscript    by Philip Gooden order for
Salisbury Manuscript
by Philip Gooden
Order:  USA  Can
Soho, 2008 (2008)

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

When the impressive Soho Press publishes another of its many outstanding offerings, discriminating readers of first-class mysteries once again have cause to celebrate. Such is the case with Philip Gooden's latest historical novel, The Salisbury Manuscript, which further reinforces both Gooden's and Soho's already stellar reputations for serving up superb whodunits. Gooden, the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, including the wonderful Elizabethan murder mystery series featuring Nick Revill, now takes readers to England during the 1870s.

The action of this Victorian gem takes London attorney Tom Ansell to the small town of Salisbury where he is to meet with his firm's client, Felix Slater, a cleric at the legendary Salisbury Cathedral.

Slater, according to his own assertions, wants Ansell's law firm take possession of and keep from prying eyes a provocative manuscript, which seems on its surface to be nothing more than the colorful memoirs of Slater's dissolute father (whose past adventures included encounters with Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and more than a few rather shady personalities). Perhaps, though, it is something more.

In short order, however, upon Ansell's arrival in Salisbury, a series of unsolved petty crimes culminates in the enigmatic murder of one of the town's most prominent citizens. Ansell, because of coincidence, suddenly becomes a suspect in the grotesque homicide, and police compel the baffled lawyer to remain in Salisbury until the case is sorted out.

Quicker than you can say absolutely engaging amateur sleuths, Ansell and his fiancée Helen Monroe (who hastens from London to join the beleaguered lawyer) set about the challenge of finding out what on earth is going on in otherwise bucolic and peaceful Salisbury.

Ansell's and Monroe's inquiries and discoveries, complicated by the escalating dangers they must face, make The Salisbury Manuscript a highly recommended tale in which secrets, hidden treasures, and eccentric characters add up to great fun.

Let us hope that The Salisbury Manuscript is merely the first installment in what could become another impressive series from Gooden whose Dickensian flair for narrative, plotting, and character will delight discerning readers who enjoy high-quality mysteries.

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