The Judgement of Strangers by
hbk out June 98
Published by Collins Crime
The Judgement of Strangers is the second in the Roth Trilogy and takes place around 25 years before the first, The Four Last Things.
The way that Taylor structures the trilogy is ingenious. Although the saga began in the present, it is only now that we begin to understand events hinted at in the first book with its tantalising, yet ominous, glimpses of past lives. Past, present and perceived future are intricately connected within an individual, each exerting subtle influences on the others. Yet observers are aware of only a limited set of events in that individual's life, and their understanding of the person is based on this. When unexpected pieces of the past emerge to shatter this understanding, it seems that if the past were better understood, we could somehow avoid the knock-on effect of pain and suffering.
Taylor's skill is not only in the unique way that he uses the trilogy to illustrate this basic truth, but in that, whilst the tendrils of past and future weave throughout, each book is a story in its own right. As in life, events are experienced separately, and only the actors themselves are aware of preceding events. For others, motivations are never resolved, puzzles never solved. Instead our own interpretation is imposed and the cycle of misunderstanding continues.
The tense and harrowing tale begins with the disappearance of Lord Peter. With its quiet parish setting, and a priest whose main worry appears to be of offending the middle-aged spinster who has taken to invading both his personal and professional life, you might be fooled into thinking that you've walked straight into a Sayers story. But not for long….
Lord Peter turns out to be the spinster's cat, and his disappearance marks the beginning of a sequence of events that shakes Roth and its inhabitants to its core. Mutilation and violence follow - and a powerful threat of evil. With real insight into the problems of a priest who is plagued by doubt and desire, Taylor has produced one of his finest works yet. It is with distinct foreboding that I wait for the last (and first) in this enthralling trilogy. Highly recommended.