“Lies, Damned Lies and History” is one of the most accomplished books in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s
This is Jodi Taylor at her best: perfect comic timing that highlights rather than hides the stresses, anxieties and evil intents that life keeps throwing at us.
As ever, the humour is based on a kind of compassionate fatalism that brings to mind almost outdated words like “Pluck” and “Gumption” and “Intrepidness” or even “Sang Froid” (although the last one is suspiciously French and may tend to take itself too seriously).
At St. Mary’s, being in an apparently hopeless situation where your duty requires you to risk your life for others is no excuse for a lack of moral fortitude, which is best demonstrated by doing the right thing AND delivering a witty, self-deprecating remark while you do it.
“Lies, Damned Lies And History” has a mystical flavour to it than I didn’t see in its predecessors. True, we’ve always had mysterious interventions from History in the plot but this time we get a sense of the power of Animus Loci: an intense emotional reaction, evoked in us by a place and time. We visit post-Roman Britain and get remarkable Dark Ages scenes with warriors and magic swords that give a very pagan view of the Arthurian legend. We take a truly chilling trip to Stone Henge in the far distant past. Both these trips move beyond the realm of the purely rational without seeming any less credible.
There’s also a threatening sense of finality to the book. Perhaps it’s just Max, trying to squeeze in more jumps through time before she finally stops being a pregnant historian and becomes something she finds much harder to imagine: the mother of an infant child. Perhaps it’s just that this is the seventh book and things keep getting worse. Perhaps it’s the sense of dread from the visit to Stone Henge but there is a skilfully maintained deep tension in this book, like a very low note that you feel rather than hear.
Max has a new enemy: an arrogant, devious, administrator who is an anathema to the spirit of St Mary’s. This gives us a reason to cheer as Max, simply by being Max, brings about his downfall.
Yet the real enemy, the one that low note resonating in my gut had been warning me about, only emerges in the final chapters of the book.
This enemy is ruthless, imaginative and driven by an implacable hatred of Max and St. Mary’s. The plot that unfolds is truly evil and very plausible. The more I thought about it the more repulsive it became. I won’t give away the idea or the outcome here but it is certainly one of the darkest passages in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s.
All I can say is that I was relieved to find Jodi Taylor is part way through writing Book 8 in the series. I need to know that I can visit St.Mary’s again. I need a place where humour and courage and loyalty form an alloy that is almost impossible to bend or break.