If You Follow Me
By Pam Rhodes
The Dunbridge Chronicles, #3
Lion Fiction, 2014
In the parish of Dunbridge, the news is out--Claire and Neil are engaged! And yet, almost before the celebrations have begun, Ben, the father of Claire's son, appears back on the scene--keen to pick up where he and Claire left off.
As Neil reels in the face of Claire's confusion, Wendy always seems to be there to provide support and comfort. Little does he know of Wendy's involvement in Ben's reappearance . . .
However, Neil has little chance to ponder his love life as the whole weight of running the church and parish descends upon his inexperienced shoulders. His mother, Iris, who has never hesitated to share her opinions, has just moved to be near him and Neil's time as a curate in Dunbridge is coming swiftly to an end. Where should he go next, and just who will go with him?
I greatly enjoy British fiction with small-village settings populated by quirky characters, and I found If You Follow Me by Pam Rhodes a delightful read. I chose to read this book, knowing that it was contemporary fiction with a religious backdrop rather than Christian fiction, and that any theology contained would be similar to that of mainline churches and therefore somewhat more liberal than I'm used to, and that's okay for a novel. I read it from the standpoint of enjoying the village setting, quirky characters, and plot - and was pleasantly surprised by its moving spiritual beauty.
If You Follow Me, book #3 of the Dunbridge Chronicles, is set in the small, picturesque town of Dunbridge and the St. Stephens church where the young Neil Fisher takes up his first curacy. Reading the previous two books would have given me a greater familiarity with the cast, but I had no problem reading this as a standalone, although I definitely plan to complete the series.
Neil is a sensitive and compassionate leader who struggles with handling the responsibilities of St. Stephens while still in training. I wasn't sure what to think about his engagement to a non-believer, but I found Claire appealing and came to appreciate the qualities she and Neil had in common, as well as the way she supported his ministry. I can't help but believe that if there were more books in this series, we would see Claire grow spiritually.
As with similar stories to this, one of the strengths lies in the eclectic mix of characters, and Pam did a masterful job at depicting life in a small English parish. There's a sense of unity and belonging, conveyed through humanness, wit, and poignancy. Some situations are really humorous, such as a wedding scene where Neil officiates, while others are touching, like little Rosie seeing an angel during a fire.
But it was the story of Blanche and Ernie that I found especially moving. Married sixty-three years, they had learned to laugh together through life's hard times. I'd like to end with Neil's descriptive words about this lovely couple: "They saw the positive in every experience, the best in each other, the best in the people they met, and God in everything around them. And one of the most wonderful of their many blessings was their love of laughter. They laughed at and with each other every day of their lives."
Pam Rhodes certainly has her finger on the pulse of village and church life, characterization, and the use of hymnody. Even if this series ends, I hope Pam will write more stories of a similar nature. I recommend If You Follow Me to all who enjoy cozy fiction.
Pam Rhodes cut her teeth in news journalism, firstly as Programme Organiser on Thames Television's network documentary series, This Week, then as the anchor for Anglia Television live daily evening news programme for seven years. She's featured on a very wide range of television and radio programmes ever since, but since 1987, has been best known as the familiar face of BBC Television's Songs of Praise. In that time she has interviewed people ranging from The Pope to Dolly Parton, earning herself a reputation as a highly professional and empathetic interviewer, especially when people are speaking about sensitive, perhaps traumatic experiences.
Also, Songs of Praise is the perfect programme for a presenter who truly loves hymns, old and new. If you mention almost any hymn you can think of to Pam, she's likely to come back with the full story of who wrote it and why, as well as giving you renditions of a couple of tunes to which it can be sung - as you'd know if you've ever dipped into any of her weekly radio programmes With Hearts and Hymns, which have featured on Premier Christian Radio for a decade!
Meet Pam online at pamrhodes.co.uk and Facebook.
Thank you to Kregel Publishing for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.