Tim Purtell
February 08, 2008 AT 05:00 AM EST

John Stannard, the narrator of Jem Poster’s debut novel, Courting Shadows, is an insufferable snob. Hired to oversee repairs on a medieval church in a remote British village in the 19th century, the class-conscious Stannard treats his unrefined workers with arrogance. He’s insensitive to the church’s cleric and cruel to a seductive lass with whom he shared a flash of uncharacteristic bliss. It’s risky placing such an unsympathetic, humorless character front and center. Poster keeps us engaged with prose that captures suffocating Victorian restraint, and a finale that doesn?t let the disagreeable prig off the hook. B

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