Soul Murder by Andrew Nugent follows the typical plot outline of a murder mystery but doesn’t satisfy—either in characterization or style. The setting is an Irish boarding school, a castle repeatedly compared to Hogwarts in Harry Potter. That gets irritating quickly. The language is stilted in the manner of an old-fashioned potboiler but, Irish colloquialisms aside, there is too much contemporary reference to take this as a period piece.
It takes a long time to get going—a lot of detail about some illicit youthful outing that isn’t very interesting although it is germane to the first crime. The entire story is told, all personalities and plot developments described, nothing for the reader to experience or empathize with. A fifteen-year-old student central to the plot is consistently referred to as a “little guy,” which gives the impression that he is about 8 years old and not a contemporary of his peers. The Garda—the police—are very sloppy about interrogating people and securing scenes and suspects. Motives for murder range from pederasty to international terrorism and seem arbitrarily applied, not organic arising from a richly imagined world. And the resolution, delivered second-hand in the revelations of an old correspondence, is surprisingly prurient, given the exceedingly dry and superficial portrait of life in a boys’ boarding school—it just doesn’t feel earned.
So I have to conclude that this author and this book do not work for me at all. The writer, a Benedictine monk, has several works of fiction to his credit and the book jacket boasts positive reviews for earlier books. Maybe I just didn’t connect with this one. It seemed amateur to me, like a good first effort in need of a rigorous editor. Soul Murder doubtless has its audience but I am not an enthusiastic member.
Soul Murder Andrew Nugent | Minotaur Books 2008