False Tongues: A Callie Anson Mystery
by Kate Charles

Poison Pen Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-464-20004-5.
Reviewed by Janet Brantley
Posted on 12/15/2015

Fiction: Mystery

"Revisiting the past was a bad idea. Callie Anson knew that..." With an opening like this we know already that Callie will indeed revisit her past, and that we are ready to go along for the ride. It is an opening that does not disappoint.

Callie is just one week back at her old theological college at Cambridge. How much can happen in a week filled with sessions designed to help the newly turned-out ministers, like Callie, navigate the rough waters of the real world? As it turns out, a great deal.

At times it's almost as if this novel is two different books combined into one—yet by the end, author Kate Charles ties up everything in both storylines. While Callie visits her old school, her somewhat ambivalent fiancé, Detective Marco Lombardi, remains in London investigating the murder of fifteen-year-old Sebastian Frost. The two major storylines are so distinct that it was hard for me to define the connections that pulled them into a cohesive whole, since the only thing tying them to each other is the relationship between Marco and Callie. Without giving anything away, I will say that it is through a brief conversation with Callie that Marco is able to uncover a key piece of evidence in his murder case.

Major themes of the story are cyber bullying, the complications modern families face on a daily basis, and the wide range of issues facing twenty-first century couples. Charles hits on other themes too, including alienation, misunderstandings, teen angst, the effects of bullying, an inability to make commitments, and the exacting results of malicious gossip.

One of the greatest strengths of False Tongues is the development of the many disparate characters, while a major weakness is the sheer size of that cast of characters. In the first twenty pages, we meet no fewer than nine characters, plus the murder victim and an emotional Italian family of six. Twenty more pages give us eight additional characters. At some point I began to wonder: "Which of these people will be hanging around to play major roles, and which will quietly fade away? Surely all of them can't remain..." Surprisingly, most of them do.

And what a cast of characters! From London to Cambridge, Callie and Marco find themselves dealing with old friends and lovers—and a brand new murder. False Tongues is the fourth book in Kate Charles's Callie Anson Mystery Series. It was only after I finished the book that I realized that Callie, the main character, never deals directly with the murder case. She spends the week at that reunion of old classmates in Cambridge, where a few mysteries do rear their heads, but it is Marco who must help solve the murder of nerdy teenager Sebastian back in London.

The size of the cast nearly did me in as a reader. I wanted to keep reading this book, because the characters were interesting, the stories were engaging, and the writing was excellent. But it was almost too much work to keep everybody straight. I'm glad I persevered. False Tongues is a worthwhile read, both for fans of mysteries and of stories of interpersonal relationships. It was fun to watch Callie loosen up a bit as her week at Cambridge progressed. She probably grew up more in that week than in the previous year.

Kate Charles, born in America, has lived in England for the past three decades, and her adopted homeland plays heavily in her works. She is past Chairman of the Crime Writers' Association, co-organizer of the St. Hilda's Crime and Mystery Conference, and a member of the Detection Club. She has penned an earlier series, the Book of Psalms mysteries; False Tongues is the fourth book in her 21st century Church (Callie Anson) series. Her long relationship with the Church of England is, in her words, at the heart of her writing, as she explores "the gap between the ideal of the institution and the all-too-human foibles of the people who constitute that institution." Visit her website.

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