The Office of the Dead by Andrew Taylor

‘The Office of the Dead’ is the third book in Andrew Taylor’s Roth Trilogy and takes place in the 1950s with the second book – ‘The Judgement of Strangers’ set in the 1970s and the first book – ‘The Four Last Things’ set in the 1990s. In this book we meet Rosie Byfield as a four year old, but the main character and narrator of the story is Wendy Appleyard.

Wendy and Janet were childhood friends and although they were very different from each other, were inseparable. Janet seemed perfect in most regards and grew up to marry the very handsome David Byfield and have the perfect daughter – Rosie. Wendy’s marriage to Henry Appleyard was not so perfect. He gambled away her money then had an affair.

Now Wendy has come to stay with her friend Janet while she takes stock of her life. She is very welcome in the rambling house in Cathedral Close Rosington where Janet is overwhelmed with her hectic life and looking after her father who is in the early stages of dementia. Life does not look as good from the inside.

While working in the Cathedral library, Wendy becomes obsessed with Canon Frances Youlgreave who led a very strange life and died in 1905. As she researches his life, she tries to help the Byfields as their ‘perfect’ life starts to fall apart. Henry claims to have changed and tries to woo Wendy back into his life.

Gradually life for the Byfields slips further and further into chaos. It is only after everything is over that Wendy is able to work out what really happened, and it is only Wendy, with an outsider’s perspective who is able to see the truth.

What really turned the perfect 4 year old angel child into the Rosie that starts to emerge in this book and appears again in the other books of the trilogy?


This book was fascinating and brilliantly written. I found it difficult reading the books in reverse time order – some things were clearer, but others more obscured. Now I feel that I need to reread the other books to answer a few questions. For example, is Wendy Appleyard still alive in ‘The Judgement of Strangers’, I can’t imagine her letting her son stay with the Byfields.

After three books I can’t say that I’ve got to like David Byfield very much or even know him very well, but the evil emerging in Rosie is pretty clear.

This was an excellent trilogy from an excellent author and I plan to read much more from Andrew Taylor.


Book Published 2000


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