by Richard Beard
The playful, witty English novel is not dead: Richard Beard's story of a young vicar who digs for the bones of famous people in the graveyards of Geneva is lively, imaginative and entertaining.
Jay Mason, an Anglican deacon experiencing a crisis of faith, is stranded in Geneva when his church is sold to Joseph Moholy, a sinister collector of antiquities. Taking advantage of Jay's tenuous hold on sanity, Moholy persuades him to search for the bones of John Calvin to add to his burgeoning collection of relics.
With the help of the mysterious Rifka and his estranged but pregnant girlfriend Helena, Jay sets about achieving his task - or facing the life-threatening consequences.
Beard covers a lot of ground in his novel: the blandness of today's Church; the lives of Thomas à Becket, Richard Burton, Charlie Chaplin and Elizabeth Taylor's dogs; and the gullibility - or otherwise - of people who believe in the power of relics to intercede in their lives. Farce is never far from the surface of the writing, but farce is often employed as a cover for essential truths, and Beard knows it.