A kaleidoscopic journey through post-World War I London in the footsteps of the real-life Rector of Stiffkey – a story by turns funny, moving and scandalous.
It’s 1930, and the long post-war party has ended in a giant collective hangover. The flappers have hung up their dancing shoes. The streets of London are teeming with homeless and desperate men and women, the flotsam left in the wake of the General Strike. The bars and cafes are full of seedy chancers and girls who will forget their mothers’ warnings for the price of a mutton-chop supper.
Through this moral wasteland strides Harold Davidson: clergyman, social worker, impulsive saver of souls. With his white hair, 16-pocket overcoat and his eye for ladies poised on the edge of perdition, he is an unlikely Messiah; but no London park, no Holborn public house or Drury Lane brothel is a stranger to his mission: to find girls who have strayed, or are about to stray, down the primrose path to Hell, and pull them back by any means at his disposal. Meanwhile, in the little parish of Stiffkey on the Norfolk coast, his Irish wife Moyra is trying to feed her family and stop the local Major from wrecking her husband’s reputation. Her letters to a Dublin confidante reveal the extraordinary journey that has brought her marriage to its present, dire state.
When Harold meets Barbara Harris, a 16-year-old London prostitute who confounds his ethical certainties, it’s the start of a chain of events that will pitch all their lives into disarray: a clanging chorus that involves bishops and circus strongmen, Indian princelings and Fleet Street hacks, lurking private eyes and reeking Islington stews, and will lead inexorably to a sensational trial and a notorious defrocking…
John Walsh has taken the few known facts surrounding the real-life Rector of Stiffkey – England’s first media anti-celebrity – and fashioned from them a sparkling fantasia of altruism and indulgence, decency and sinfulness. In these fictional journals he presents a Victorian idealist confronted by a modern world he both abhors and embraces. The result is an entertainment by turns farcical, shocking and tragic.
Reviews of Sunday at the Cross Bones
- ‘John Walsh propels his narrative forward with irresistible vigour and delineates a host of entertaining characters with broad strokes of a brush heavily charged with primary colours.’ Francis King, Literary Review
- ‘The narrative of “Sunday at the Cross Bones” is as lively and ambiguous as its main character…Pacy and entertaining, elegantly written, funny yet ultimately tragic, “Sunday at the Cross Bones” is full of hypocrisies and moral ambiguities. The abiding impression is of a very irritating man punished out of all proportions to his actual wrong-doing.’ Times Literary Supplement
- ‘Like Peter Ackroyd, Walsh demonstrates an intimate knowledge of London and the unique spirit of place that permeates different nooks and crannies of the city…Walsh captures dialect brilliantly from the cockney ‘innit’-speak of the rector’s protégées to the patronising but ever-so-polished tone of his Mayfair benefactress…Though we know how the story ends, there is a dreadful fascination in following it to the end of the journey.’ Sunday Business Post
- ‘If the secret of novel-writing is to find a voice, then John Walsh has cracked it in this entertaining comic novel…There is a lot here, much of it extremely funny, about the allure of hosiery.’ Sunday Times