Paperback: Sunday at the Cross Bones, by John Walsh

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The Independent Culture

£7.99 (465pp)

Paperback: Sunday at the Cross Bones, by John Walsh

Reviewed by Emma Hagestadt

Harold Davidson, the real-life subject of John Walsh's first novel, hit the headlines in the 1930s as the original naughty vicar. Exchanging Stiffkey, his Norfolk living, for Soho, this middle-aged family man spent the working week saving young girls from a life of sin. Ever the showman, he ended his days, defrocked and disgraced, performing in seaside shows on the Blackpool seafront.The farcical potential of such a life is enormous, and Walsh, with his innate gift for comic storytelling, is just the writer to resurrect this episode from the footnotes of pre-war lechery. Portrayed as a man of Lord Longford-like naivety, Davidson journeys from Piccadilly tea-rooms to Peckham bedsits, "playfully" prodding women's breasts while simultaneously being horrified when his actions are misinterpreted. "I am a tactile man," he admits. "If it is a fault to translate emotional generosity into physical expression, then I own up to the fault unreservedly."The pleasures of comic fiction lie in the accomplishment of the writing, and Walsh's enjoyable novel not only thrills with its regular top-ups of verbal Viagra, but hints at a darker subtext: the collapse of the rector's abandoned family, and the tragic fate of one of his young protégées. Skirt-chaser or saint? Walsh leaves us to decide. H