Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Whispered Name
Reviewed by David F. Beer

A Whispered Name

by William Brodrick
Little, Brown, 2008

If you like mystery novels based on the First World War you'll find A Whispered Name both challenging and enjoyable. Willam Brodrick has written a handful of novels in the "Father Anselm Thriller" Series, and this one won the Crime Writers' Association's Golden Dagger Award in 2009. Also, the author was an Augustinian friar before leaving the order to become a lawyer and author, so it's not surprising that the settings for A Whispered Name are largely the modern monastery of an order of Gilbertines, the killing fields of the war around the time of Passchendaele, plus a remote island off the coast of Ireland.

When a woman and an old man come to see Brother Anselm while he's tending the monastery's beehives, they have questions about a deceased and greatly revered monk, Brother Herbert. Their questions set in motion a "hive" of suspicion, doubt, responsibility, guilt, and secrecy. These themes surround Brother Herbert, who had lived at the monastery for a great many years after having founded it with the help of another brother. Unknown to almost everybody, Herbert had been an officer in the Northumbrian Light Infantry during the war and had taken part in a desertion trial. The slow, gradual unraveling of events in Herbert's life at that time is painfully but meticulously carried out by Brother Anselm, who had nothing but love and respect for Herbert—who had himself greatly influenced Anselm's own vocation.

The plot and timeline for this novel is complex, as is the situation that gradually emerges. Flashbacks are plentiful and there are several names that need to be sorted out and remembered. (I made a list of the prominent ones inside the book's cover). Brother Anselm's quest for the truth leads him to various places such as the Public Records Office and old schools to research the past and to try, with the help of his Prior, to unravel a convoluted mystery involving confused identities, guilt, and much else. Aspects of memory, conscience, sacrifice, and redemption are never far from the central plot and provide a sort of spiritual cloud in which the main characters move. Anselm's dogged search into the past reflects in a strange way the response he received when, many, many years earlier as a layman, he had asked Brother Herbert what they did in a monastery: "We tend a fire that won't go out."

The author, William Brodrick, is an accomplished writer. You only have to read the opening paragraph of the novel to realize this. Also, Brodrick brings to his novels a background that is varied and widespread, from England, Ireland, Canada, and Australia. He spent six years as a friar in Dublin before leaving at the request of Cardinal Hume to set up a charity for homeless people. He then studied law, became a barrister (lawyer), and now lives in France with his wife and three children. He has written seven mysteries in the Father Anselm series. My aim now is to find time to read the rest of them.

David F. Beer


  1. Darn, no spoilers. Now I'll have to order the book. Good review. Cheers

  2. Already read the whole novel. By the way, thank you for sharing name of the book and review that might be helpful for new comer.

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