Simon Edge, Anyone for Edmund?, Lightning Books, 2020
The blurb describes this book as “a canonical comedy featuring a medieval patron saint, a tennis court and a Westminster spin doctor”. There is a tennis court in a corner of the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds, just under what was our bedroom window, and an archaeological dig was planned there this year as part of the Abbey’s millennium celebrations which should have taken place this month.
We know that the Shrine of St Edmund was the reason for the Abbey church and its pilgrimage trade, and that this all came to end when Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey. The monks left, the abbey church was destroyed, and the bones of Edmund disappeared. There are some in Arundel Cathedral but, if memory serves, they include part of a sheep and a cow. Logic has always said that if you want to hide the bones of your patron saint, the best place to quietly bury them would be in the monks’ graveyard – and archaeologists believe that is the area which was later used for tennis.
In this novel, the bones of Edmund are found. Edmund was once our patron saint, and Mark, an enterprising Westminster spin doctor, realises he could be just the saint to bring our fractured nation together in a post-Brexit world. George for England, Andrew for Scotland, David for Wales, Patrick for Ireland – and Edmund for all of us. There is one chapter where Mark edits Wikipedia to prove that Edmund had a Scottish mother, links with the Welsh Court and was a friend of Patrick. Once it is on Wikipedia, it must be true – and soon Edmund’s multi-culturalism is being reported as fact by all the major news organisations.
Mark’s boss is Marina Spencer, the Culture Secretary, and she represents the government at the service to rebury Edmund, this time in a shrine in the Cathedral. She is a little miffed as the seat she is given is in a gallery high on the north side of the crossing, and she can’t see a thing. I had a chuckle at this – when the Cathedral Chapter received the plans for the new crossing some fifteen years ago now, several of us asked what the point was to this gallery. At the end of the service she manages to get to the shrine itself, and Mark makes sure a press photographer gets a photo of her deep in prayer and adoration, which makes the front pages.
Very soon, almost indecently soon, Marina becomes Prime Minister, and starts to push for Edmund. Success follows success, but some opponents pay a terrible price. Mark begins to worry that there is a power at work which is more than just politics. He raises his fears, and is escorted from his office, sent for counselling and put on gardening leave. Is Edmund dealing with his 21st century enemies in the way he dealt with opposition in the 9th? Will his new found fame lead to him becoming Patron Saint, or is his power not appropriate in the modern world?
The book made me laugh out loud, it may me grimace at the workings of government, it took me back to Bury, and it has some great one-liners – “In extremis, there was solace to be derived from Antiques Roadshow” (that sounds like a text for lockdown). I only argued in one place – Bury’s railway station is described as “nondescript Victorian”, it is anything but!
The above is a review written by Northernvicar http://www.northernvicar.co.uk – I am posting it here to mark St.Edmund’s day on 20th November (yesterday) – he certainly seemed to enjoy it!