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'Another Bloody Retreat' reviewed

Posted by Simon Parke, 28 September 2018, 5.42pm

Reviewing ‘Another Bloody Retreat’ in the Church Times, Fiona Hook writes:

‘Fans of Abbot Peter who pick up this book expecting another crime in run-down seaside Stormhaven are in for a delightful surprise with this backward glance at the years the abbot spent in the desert, heading the down-at-heel monastery of St James-the-Less in the shadow of Mt Sinai.

From the deliciously comic opening pages, where the Abbot, at his Writer’s Group, is advised to change the setting of his memoirs from the desert to a counselling centre in a city – ‘because that’s where people’s lives are’ – it is an entertaining and absorbing treat.

Parke, making a change from his normal third, to first-person narrative, has found a wonderful voice for his protagonist: erudite, sardonic, witty and full of self-knowledge. 

Sent to close down the ancient monastery, Peter manages instead to prevaricate for decades, building a community peopled by those with nowhere else to take their creaking lives.

There’s New York designer Tear-Sing, raised in a Chinese orphanage, and the irritating Dalip, who runs from his own problems by imposing his help on others, whether they want it or not.

Peter also has to deal with visitors to the monastery, like the wonderfully-drawn Carol, who hopes soon to be a bishop. Superficially, so clever and assured… and underneath, leading a life of quiet desperation.

The sparring provoked by their obvious but unexpressed attraction provides some of the book’s best lines.

But this is more than a lovely piece of satire with some great jokes.  When the monastery is invaded by the psychopathic Skarit, the calm of daily routine is overthrown, and people react to violence and terror in a way no one could have expected.

There are moments of genuine pain and horror and Parke makes you wonder what you would have done in the circumstances.

An absolute triumph.’

‘Another Bloody Retreat’ is published by White Crow Books and available from all half-decent outlets.

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