Judith Cutler

The Keeper of Secrets

No, this historical mystery isn't by my husband, Edward Marston - it really is all my own work!

Tobias Campion came into existence when Mike Ashley, editor of all those wonderful anthologies of crime short stories, asked me to write a Regency story. I can't remember whether he actually stipulated that not one single bosom must heave, but somehow it became a guideline.

Much as I would have liked to write a pseudo-Georgette Heyer confection set in Bath or Brighton, the Rev Tobias Campion insisted that he should have an unfashionable parish somewhere in the Midlands. You can read his first outing in The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits (Constable, 2005).

While I was researching for the story, I came to realise how very few people enjoyed the glittering life we associate with the Regency, and I have built on this information in the novel.

Poverty was rife, especially amongst the sort of people Tobias would have as parishioners. Education was haphazard. Medicine was all too often inspired guesswork. The role of women was equivocal: certainly they weren't as trammelled and trapped as they were in Victoria's reign, but if I wanted a protagonist with social and indeed geographical mobility it had to be a man.

Religion, though not in one of its more intense phases, was the base-rock on which life was founded, so it was natural for me to ask Tobias to take holy orders. He was happy to. Damaged by something in his past - was it as sin of omission or commission? - he is estranged from his family and determined to earn a living. Already he has to compromise. He has accepted a living from a very rich relative, Lady Elham, but he quickly offends her by preaching against the vested interests of landowners, counselling generosity, not just lip-service charity, to the poor.

At first lonely in his new parish, he makes friends with the village doctor, a man with his own secrets and with his cousin's housekeeper. Jem, his groom, becomes not just his henchman but his moral guide.

I don't think I have ever enjoyed writing a book more than this. True, the language was a challenge, and time and again I'd have loved my characters to be able to make a quick phone call or leap into a powerful car. But I really felt I was living amongst friends. I hope you enjoy making their acquaintance too.



Allison & Busby


27 August 2007


…much more than a run-of-the mill historical crime novel… and the ending took me completely by surprise. By the end I found myself wanting to read more about this engaging young clergyman
Neville Firman, Historical Novels Review

Rich and entertaining.
The Observer