The Right Reverend Gerald William Kinghorn, Bishop of Fencaster, is going through his correspondence one January afternoon when his much-harassed chaplain brings him the card of one Reverend Jonathan Derby who is waiting for the bishop to grant him an audience. At first, the name means nothing to the Bishop and then he recalls that earlier as Master of Satterthwaite College, a leading public school, he had the Denby cousins as his students. One of them - Denby Major - Henry, has now become a cabinet minister. This is apparently the other one - Denby Minor. Glad to reacquaint himself with a former pupil, the bishop settles to have tea with Jonathan who tells him that he has recently been demobilized from the RAF where he had been serving as a chaplain in the Middle East. Now he wants to know whether the Bishop has any vacant posts in his diocese. He wants a living in this part of the country because of his interest in early Saxon history. The Bishop has one such place, a remote and inaccessible village called Clynde near the marshes, a place that has been without a rector for so long that the Bishop worries the villagers have reverted to Paganism.
Young Denby is immediately eager to take up the challenge. However, there are problems. For one, the patron of the parish, Lord Mundesley is a little fussy about whom to offer the rectorate, secondly the village is lonely and desolate, thirdly the stipend is a mere pittance, and most-importantly the rectory is supposed to be haunted. However, Denby is undeterred. The isolation of the village doesn't matter to him; his father, Sir Ambrose, has settled a generous amount upon him so money is no problem; he also does not believe in the matter of ghosts; as for Lord Mundesley, his father knows him and perhaps can persuade him to give Jonathan a chance.
And this is what happens. Because of his high regard for Sir Ambrose, Lord Mundesley agrees to give Jonathan the post but he insists that the latter would not live in the rectory - it being not only too rambling for a single man but also being in a state of disrepair. Rather, Jonathan is told that he'd be staying in a property owned by Mundesley. However, Jonathan has no intention of being indebted in any small way to the patron and so when he reaches the village he quietly settles in the rectory.
But on that very first night, his sleep is disturbed by some curious noises:
A faint rattling, as of glass bottles being moved about. He remembered the empty bottles he had seen in the pantry. There was a famous case on record of bottles being thrown about by supernatural agency. Was this a manifestation? A protest against the rectory becoming occupied again, after having stood empty for so long? Well, the poltergeist was sadly mistaken if he thought that such disturbances would drive out the present occupant.
The rattling was repeated, and Jonathan decided that it was too muffled and distant to proceed from the pantry, which was immediately beneath the room in which he was. In any case, he told himself, supernatural manifestations were the last resort of the credulous. All the same, he was not quite so unperturbed as he tried to pretend. These mysterious noises in an empty house were eerie, to say the least. He felt the hair at the back of his head rising uncomfortably. Then an inhuman screech, at which he started violently.
Jonathan sets out to investigate the secret of the rectory....
Miles Burton is one of the pseudonyms of prolific British writer, Major Cecil John Street (more famously known by another pseudonym: John Rhode). For a detailed and interesting review of this book and its author, read this informative review @ noah-stewart.com. The online link provided led me to this book for which I am most thankful.
I agree with the reviewers assessment that more than the mystery and the police-procedure, it is the unstated social and cultural mores of British Society that make the novel interesting.
First Line: The Right Reverend Gerald William Kinghorn, Bishop of Fencaster, sat in his study at the Palace one January afternoon.
First Published: 1949
Source: Free download @ Black Mask
Other books read of the same author (as John Rhode): The Motor-Rally Mystery, & Night Exercise