'Welworth Garden City in the 1940s is a forward-thinking town where free spirits find a home - vegetarians, socialists, and an array of exotic religious groups. Chief among these are the Children of Osiris, led by the eccentric High Prophet, Eustace K. Mildmann. The cult is a seething hotbed of petty resentment, jealousy and dark secrets - which eventually lead to murder. The stage is set for one of Inspector Meredith's most bizarre and exacting cases. This witty crime novel by a writer on top form is a neglected classic of British crime fiction.'
The murder mystery was originally published in 1947 but was republished in 2017 in the British Library series that offers new readers a chance to discover old books that have been out of print for some time and largely forgotten. As you can probably guess, what appealed to me was that this novel is set amid a group of modern-day pagans, the fictional Children of Osiris.
I really enjoyed the first few chapters, which offer a humorous look at the politics, cliquiness and infighting between the leaders of the religious movement. However, as I got further into the novel I felt more and more uncomfortable about its use of racist stereotypes, terms and references. Of course, back in 1947, those words and types of descriptions were not unusual - even though they would still have been found offensive by people of colour and other ethnic groups. The book didn't need them. The plot would have worked fine if the racist bits were removed or changed. I guess the modern editor decided it was better to leave the book as it was originally, warts and all. What surprised me more was that the introduction, written especially for this new edition, didn't mention that there were problematic issues of that nature with the book.
But what do you think? Should old books with racist terms be left forgotten, should new editions be edited to remove racist content, or should such problematic material be clearly mentioned at the beginning, but the text itself left unchanged? Do leave a comment.
You can view Death Makes a Prophet on Amazon.