THE NEBULY COAT by John Meade Falkner,with an introduction by Mark Valentine. Ashcroft, BC, Canada; Ash-Tree Press; 2004. 1st hardcover edition thus.
First published in 1903, John Meade Falkner's The Nebuly Coat has drawn praise from writers as diverse as Thomas Hardy, Graham Greene, E. M. Forster, John Betjeman, Henry Newboldt, and A. N. Wilson; while Lady Violet Bonham Carter, visiting a munitions works in 1915, fell into conversation with one of the directors, with whom she began discussing books. She told him that there was one book that he must read; 'I cannot tell you why, because its quality is indescribable—it is called The Nebuly Coat..' 'I wrote it,' replied the director.
The novel tells of the experiences of a young architect, Arthur Westray, who is despatched to the sleepy Dorset town of Cullerne to oversee restoration work on the once splendid, but now sadly deteriorated, Cullerne Minster. The project would seem to offer little by way of excitement: Cullerne is quietly dying, and Westray fears that any restoration efforts are doomed through lack of finance. He soon finds himself, rather unwillingly, caught up in the current of Cullerne life, and hears rumours about a mystery surrounding the claim to the title of Lord Blandamer, whose family vault is sited in Cullerne Minster, and whose arms—the Nebuly Coat—adorn the Minster's great transept window. When the new Lord Blandamer arrives, promising to pay all the costs of the restoration, the inhabitants rejoice—all except Westray, who suspects that the new Lord is not what he seems, and the gone-to-seed organist, Sharnall, who seems close to sovling the mystery of the Blandamer inheritance.
Part social comedy, part Hardyesque tragedy, and part murder mystery, The Nebuly Coat stands unique among English novels, and Ash-Tree Press is pleased to be able to bring it back into print. Mark Valentine's introduction illuminates the life of the author of three fine novels (Moonfleet, The Lost Stradivarius, and The Nebuly Coat), and shows how Falkner's interests contributed to this, his final and wonderfully atmospheric novel, a classic tale of suspense, intrigue, and deception.
The Nebuly Coat is truly the mystery novel that M. R. James might have written!
Jacket painting by Paul Lowe. Published 15 September 2004. Limited to 500 copies. Fine in fine dj.