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Literature / Ye Little Hills Like Lambs

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Sheep may safely … er. Bach off, mate, we'll handel this.

The fourth installment in the Village Tales series, published in the last quarter of 2016, and chronicling events in the first half of that year, against a backdrop of Ripped from the Headlines events, including the Brexit Referendum and the embarrassing public collapse of Operations Yewtree and Midland.

Darker and Edgier than the preceding volume, The Day Thou Gavest; in fact, so far the even-numbered books in the series have been Darker and Edgier than the odd-numbered.

Ye Little Hills Like Lambs shifts the focus to the Downlands: of which the ecclesiastical parishes have been newly joined to the old Woolfonts Combined Benefice under the saintly Father Paddick (now a Very Youthful Canon), and the civil parishes were already next on the list for being Brought Up to Scratch by the Duke of Taunton.

Things start out peaceably enough: the panto season runs its course; Professor the Baroness Lacy and Professor Farnaby and their team are eager to get back to their archaeological survey when Springtime comes around (they think, as of the preceding volumes, they may have a found something bigger than Duropolis; Teddy-and-Edmond are looking to adopt; the Duke is determined to recreate the old Georgian canal across the Downlands....

But in the Vale, adjoining the Downlands, and across the border in Dorset, suspicious things have been going on with the children of the appalling Gladdie Rideout; the ad hoc Dorset Department of Child Disservices (an interim taskforce, headed by an ambitious Obstructive Bureaucrat, until the real Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub comes on line) is running loose; the Moral Guardians, unable to get local and legal camboy Luke Revel banged up down the nick, are looking for new targets; and the prissy, child-loathing, independent scholar John Treasure Voss is working on yet another book about Lewis Carroll.

Then there's a death in the Rector's extended family, and this unkeys the avalanche.

Notable for, among other things, the Duke's spending a good deal of time being a complete bastard: partly tactically, but also because his highhandedness is becoming habitual as he turns 54; and for how this, and the problems of some other sufferers from mid-life crises, gets resolved.... Also includes some Startling Revelations of some details of wartime whispered deeds done by the duke in his days in military intelligence.

This being part of the Village Tales series, justice, mercy, and redemption do, eventually, triumph … in a bittersweet sort of way.

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    Tropes A through F 
  • Abomination Accusation Attack: Madeleine Elsworth ("Jobsworth"), the Obstructive Bureaucrat with ambitions to become head of the Dorset MASH when it comes online, outright suggests that the Duke has utterly vile motives in defending John Treasure Voss against the Official Paedohunt, and of being one himself. It doesn't end well for her.
  • Adjective Animal Alehouse: Played with. The pub in Woolfont Magna is of course the Blue Boar (from one of the supporters in the ducal arms); but the pub the Kellows are now restoring in Woolfont Crucis is the Woolpack; their cousin Jack Burridge's Downlands pub is The Old Bridge; the pub near Tidnock, the Duke's Cheshire holding, is the Pelican (no color); and the Vale pubs include the Chalk and Cheese, the Trulock Arms, the Wool Badger, the Garb (a sheaf of wheat, ahem), the Duke, and the King's Head. However … the survey team does locate the old inn in one of the Downland villages, which went bust before ever it made it onto the first OS map and had been forgotten; and Lady Lacy is certain the Duke will insist on restoring it – and naming it the "Chalk Horse".
    "Den said that if they ever wanted to get the anthropologists out from under foot for a month, and any damned sociologists who stopped by to meddle, they could send them on a pub-crawl and not see them again until they'd published. Whereupon Lady Lacy had capped them all by noting that there was a pub near dear old Hugo Mallerstang's Hellgill called the Wasp & Henry, that being a corruption of Hospes inire iubet iustos exire nefastos, 'The landlord bids the honest to enter and rogues to depart', and the pub quite possibly having been in business of a sort since the days when it was on a legionary line of march towards Camboglanna and Banna and the Wall.)"
  • All Jews Are Ashkenazi: Zig-zagged: averted by the late Sir Ben Salmon RA, and by his nephew and heir Lew Salmon and Lew's wife Melanie, who are, like many British Jews, descended of Ashkenazim (mostly Baltic traders) and Sephardim (mostly via Amsterdam); but the archaeologist Prof. Barbara Winton (no relation) plays this straight, being the daughter of an Ashkenazi banking family.
  • Apron Matron: Some new, Oop North-bred entries: Edmond's tough, Yorkshire mum, the new Health Visitor and midwife; his sister Betty Crabtree the casualty nurse; and such visitors as the Lancashire granny (and author of memoirs-of-a-farmer's-wife) Liza Allred.
  • Arcadia: Darker and Edgier in this volume. The Duke still thinks (and always will) that, even with the "et ego," the countryside is simply better; but there are some eerie places at the edge of Downlands and over the edge in the Vale, notably Senwood (which is known locally as Sin Wood for a reason), and there's a lot of "et ego" about in this one, and the rumor (rumors being what they are...) of some nasty, decadent, nigh-Campbell Country or Machen-like goings-on in wood and brush and lonely places.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Played with. The current crop are quite decent. The Duke has no illusions about some of the old crew:
    On the death of William Rufus, and the Malet baron of the time: "Robert Malet was conveniently loiterin' near to Winchester when it happened, just as Henry Beauclerc was lurkin' about, and they wasted no time in seizin' the Treasury and gettin' Henry crowned successor to his suddenly and conveniently deceased brother, damn me! Robert and William detested one another in any case, and it's as obvious he was in on the assassination and coup as it is that it was an assassination and a coup – Henry made him Lord Great Chamberlain on the spot, for services rendered. … I know m' ancestors, and they were never ones to stab a man in the front if they could hire some poor bugger to shoot him with an arrow in the back!"
As JP, from the Bench, when the solicitor for the accused demurs to a ducal remark: "Of course there's a criminal class in the country. There are at least two, in fact. We do, in this country, after all, possess both parliamentary political dynasties, and … an hereditary peerage."
  • As the Good Book Says...: The clergy, though High Church, are not above the occasional Scriptural allusion in passing, or quoting an apposite point from the Book of Common Prayer. Nor for that matter are most of the Upper Classes (not always in English), or the more traditional farmers.
  • Badass Preacher: Canon Paddick, as he grows in years and Grace, gets more politely badass by the day. And Fr Bohun (that humble late-entry curate who gave up a fortune to serve the Church but remains a baronet, a holder of the Military Cross, and a retired Major of Household Cavalry) brings calls to repentance which no one who isn't a fool disregards (even to biker-ish petty criminals, who are respecfully frightened of this quiet, pleasant man within thirty seconds of meeting him).
  • Barsetshire: This time, not played quite so straight as usual, as far as being – most of the time – a place "for a quiet, relaxing time." There are some damned nasty things from elsewhere brushing – until Dealt With Severely – the District.
  • Battle Butler: As always, the Duke's butler, Viney – Mister Viney to you, unless you're the Duke or his family – and indeed all the staff at Wolfdown House. This time with bells on; and including the Downlands farmer Alec Parham, descendant of old knights who held of and under the ducal forefathers, who is made Chief Steward and Master Forester of the old Honour,note  ostensibly to supervise a census of ancient yews, and in fact to Keep An Eye On Things and report dirty dealings. And intervene if necessary....
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Several. The Wilts Planning Staff; in a sense, the Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner; and the Crown Prosecution Service, among 'em.
  • Benevolent Boss: His Grace. Of course. Yet more obviously, the clergy. Turned up to eleven, Professor the Baroness Lacy and Professor Farnaby, for the archaeology dig.
  • Beware the Nice Ones / Beware the Quiet Ones: This is Rule Number One in the Woolfonts, particularly with the clergy; it is now extended to the Downland parishes and into the Vale adjoining. And it turns out that Teddy Gates can be formidable after all when crossed....
  • Big Fancy House: A new entry in an already long list: "the Coursing Lodge," in one of the Downland villages, an alleged mere "lodge" for ducal ancestors looking to put in a day's field-sports away from Wolfdown. A James Gibbs Georgian gem, this "little lodge" is large enough to act as the Downlands HQ for the Duke's agent, HQ for Alec Parham as Steward, and HQ for the whole archaeological project. But, being a James Gibbs Georgian gem, it "doesn't look 'too vulgar-big'." And Hellgill Hall, in the River Eden valley, newly recovered and restored for Lord Mallerstang, gets a turn in the spotlight, if briefly, in this one.
  • Bookends: The novel starts with a showdown between the Duke and the bureaucracy; proceeds to one of the final scenes (a comedy of manners); and then flashes back to build to these two climatic scenes and all that happens before, during, and between them, to end with the comedy of manners scene … and the Wham Line that goes with it and which wasn't revealed the first time 'round.
  • Boy Band: The Duke's adolescent niece Hetty's beloved One Direction actually put in a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo as the Special Musical Guests on one night at the village panto. All five of the classic lineup and never mind the breakup. They could hardly refuse: the Quiet, Rural Village Panto is (the Duke strikes again) in aid of the Gurkha Welfare Trust ... and being co-produced by Roy Hudd and HRH the Earl of Wessex. Hetty of course is over the moon; her ducal uncle brushes off her gratitude with a smiling, "That's What Makes Me Dutiful."
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: The Duke and Lady Lacy, in their mature and scholarly and aristocratic way.
  • But I Would Really Enjoy It: Badgered beyond endurance by meddlers who are trying to force him and Canon Paddick into a relationship, Sher Mirza gets bitterly explicit about this to a bureaucrat.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Will Stamford, rendered paraplegic in a car accident that kills his wife Meg, and thus having to (a) place their daughter Molly with a Special Guardian and (b) find a different job at the Woolfonts & Chickmarsh Railway than the one he's been doing.
  • Car Porn: On top of the Duke's Bristolsnote  of old and just renown, there is now a bus scheme (the "Woollybus") for the Downlands and Woolfonts and all the scattered farmsteads … using restored or recreated Bristol J and K series buses, pre-War in form, with the 21st Century under the bonnet / hood, and made or restored by the railway Works Department.
  • Celibate Hero: Canon Paddick and Sher Mirza, as a religiously-mandated Chastity Couple of conscience, persist as such (along with the widowers Fr Bohun, Sir Tom Douty, Fr Gascelyn Levett, and so on). However.... Lady Crispin accepts, at the end of book, the marriage proposal of the local Kindly Vet Giles Trulock – even without knowing that the Duke has put him up for a knighthood for Veterinary Science. And (drumroll) Lady Lacy finally got tired of waiting, and did the proposing: yes, she and His Grace are to marry in the new year (and there was much rejoicing).
  • The Chains of Commanding: The Rector regards God's service as perfect freedom. His Grace, not so much. No change there … but he spends most of the book being, in reaction, absolutely insufferable (no change there ...) – and in a new way that worries everyone who knows him. Until Lady Lacy tells him she's marrying him unless he insists otherwise; after which, until the reveal, his sudden cheerfulness makes everyone worry He's Up To Something Again.
  • Chastity Couple: Sher and Noel, still, despite massive outside pressure.
  • The City vs. the Country: Even with something nasty in the woodshed, the countryside gets the rhapsodic treatment.
  • Clear Their Name: John Treasure Voss – one of the world's leading Lewis Carroll scholars – is writing a book to refute the popular canard of Carroll as a paedo. The galley proofs contain Carroll photographs (from universities and museums and government archives)... Guess what happens to John Treasure Voss when the Moral Guardians find that out: which is why Our Heroes have to clear his name.
  • Close-Knit Community: It turns out the Downlands are one, just as much as the Woolfonts have been shown to be one. And so, mostly, is the Vale. It also turns out that this is not always a good thing....
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: John Treasure Voss, for trying to acquit Lewis Carroll in that same tribunal: and, Lady Lacy points out in the House of Lords, to the Government's embarrassment, this can happen to any scholar or historian against whom anyone holds a grudge. She examples a military historian who reprints the best known Vietnam Conflict photo (yes, the napalm one)....
  • Cool Uncle: We already knew the Duke was one, and Canon Paddick is to his niece Wee Molly. But it gets exaggerated when Meg is killed and Will is left paraplegic in a traffic accident, and Canon Noel Paddick SSC is forced to become Molly's Special Guardian and Parental Substitute.
  • The Coroner: Played properly: both as to the ex-RAF Forensic Medical Examiner and histopathologist Mr Pottinger FRCS FRCPath, and as to the actual Coroner, who is, in England and Wales, a legal officer.
  • Cutesy Name Town: Averted. Unfortunately for John Treasure Voss, he lives at Yew Tree Cottage in the hamlet of Maidensigh and has been known to wander Senwood – locally called "Sin Wood" –; but these (and Drumheel, and Scratchling Bottom) are all perfectly possible English placenames and not merely lampshaded but gone into thoroughly and made a plot point. ("Maidensigh" was once part of the lands in farm to the nunnery in Shaftesbury, and in flood, tended to become a temporary "eyot," an island; the ancient yews are in fact an archaeological clue to other things entirely; and so on. None of this helps John Treasure Voss in the court of public opinion, due to the subliminal connotations of living at Yew Tree Cottage off Assbutt Hill Lane at Maidensigh.)
  • Daddy DNA Test: In the midst of their adoption assessments, it's revealed that the novelist Su Allred, who died in a previous volume, leaving a son of almost eleven years in age, named the father on her deathbed … Edmond. The Duke insists Edmond insist on proof, despite Pip's looking just like Edmond at that age.
  • Deadpan Snarker: His Grace has new competition on that score, too: especially with all these academics descended on the Downlands for the archaeology. He's still ahead on points. Just.
  • Death by Origin Story: Various orphans and their late families, obviously. And most notably, Pip Allred and his late mum Su, and Meg Stamford as the suddenly killed mum of Noel Paddick's niece Wee Molly.
  • Department of Child Disservices: And how. Maddie Elsworth's ad hoc taskforce, which is disgracing Dorset and making life difficult for Wiltshire, first ignored the Rideouts; then overreacted to the point the court made an example of the taskforce; then washed their hands of the matter and looked for an easier scalp even while Gladdie's new live-in was using her and the kids as family camouflage for an opiate-smuggling ring.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: The Duke, of course: and this quest, and the ways he fills his time with good works offensively done, are doing his temper no favors at all.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Averted. Su Allred's cancer is faced head on, just as much as is the traffic incident that left Meg Stamford dead and Will Stamford disabled.
  • Dream-Crushing Handicap: Will Stamford has to give up the daily care of his daughter as a new, and disabled, widower, let alone change his job at the railway.
  • Egopolis: Subverted. There are lots of villages with names indicating mediaeval ownership by the ducal forebears, but after a millennium that's ceased to really met the trope definition.
  • Ensemble Cast: Massively expanded from its previous Cast of Thousands standard.
  • Epigraph: The work as a whole has one, the epigraph to the first chapter, which also serves as a Title Drop: specifically, the 104th (Anglican numbering) Psalm. The actual overall epigraph is from Deuteronomy; chapter epigraphs throughout come from The Bible, with one exception, a quotation on manorial historiography and archaeology from W. G. Hoskin.
  • Famed In-Story: Edmond as a former Premier Leaguer; Kevin Bagnall, currently of Man Utd, who fanboys Edmond; Teddy; The Breener; the Hon. Gwen; the Nawab; Lady Lacy; the Duke; most of his ancestors....
  • Fictional Document: Oh, where to start? It's up to its neck in 'em, to Scrapbook Story / Epistolary Novel levels. Great War diaries, mediaeval charters, Domesday Book entries, Pepys, Boswell, Aubrey, John Evelyn, the Taunton Papers, Georgian era travelogues....
  • The Four Loves: The primary element in the narrativium; and eros finally gets a look in. As, sadly, do their infernal counterparts....
  • Funetik Aksent: Avoided, with the standard exceptions (the Kellows, The Breener when being Stage Oirish, and a few of the most isolated farmers). Otherwise, subtly indicated with word choice and grammar.

    Tropes G to Znote  
  • Ghibli Hills: The Downlands, and especially the old Saxon (indeed, pre-Saxon; indeed, pre-Celtic) sites around Wodewough Wood.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Applies to the local clergy – all of them, including the Nonconformists; Mgr Folan; and Dr Jettou the nearest imam –, pressed down and running over; to certain legal sorts, this time 'round; and to the academics.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Primary component of the narrative fuel in the series; here expanded markedly to new characters and old ones brought further into the limelight.
  • Good Shepherd: The series has always run on this trope, without distinction of faith or denomination, but Fr Gascelyn Levett and Fr Bohun, in the Downland parishes, exaggerate it in this one.
  • Grande Dame: Lady Crispin has made the grade: so much so that the Duke felt it necessary to put Giles Trulock up for a "K" so Connie would marry him.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: The usual lashings of it, as you might expect of highly educated characters, many of them Oxbridge sorts – Smart People Know Latin, after all –; and, in this volume, including a lot of extracts from charters and Domesday Book entries (which can be treated simply as atmosphere by the reader, catching a familiar family name and place name amidst the Latin, and finding the extracts to be obvious in context even if the reader has no Latin). The entries "in Greek cypher" from the Georgian dukes' papers, commenting on the The House of Hanover in unpleasant terms, are, thankfully, given only in translation. (There are also two instances – a pun by Ben Salmon in flashback, and a comment on a pub name by Dr Winton – of Bilingual Bonus Hebrew.)
  • Guile Hero: Oh, guess. (Hint: he has a coronet.)
  • Guilt by Coincidence: John Treasure Voss.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: In addition to the familiar ones, a shared tragedy makes Steve Paddick, the Rector's father, and the Rector's former father-in-law Jack "Dad" Stamford, thoroughly this; and Fr Bohun and Fr Gascelyn Levett in the Downland parishes are these also, in a Fat and Skinny double act regularly compared to Shaw and Chesterton, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Falstaff and Slender....
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The Duke is teetering on the brink of that abyss he's been staring into without blinking. Some of the Moral Guardians are in freefall already.
  • Hitler Ate Sugar: John Treasure Voss; and the Duke gets a legitimately friendly warning from Da Chief and the Commissioner that some people, who don't get his crusade for the presumption of innocence and All That, are beginning to suggest he's too soft on the allegations going 'round. Which is in when he tells them a little story from his days doing close OPINT in Helmand....
  • Holy Ground: Professor Farnaby (who tends to assume all landscapes to be sacral or to have been so in the distant past) is not alone in wondering if Wodewough Wood and its surrounding pagan Saxon sites pre-Conversion mayn't have been hallowed ground for a very long time....
  • Honor Before Reason: The Duke is always balancing this with his deep Combat Pragmatist tendencies; in this one, his balance is especially precarious. And John Treasure Voss is too naive to recognize that, when being interviewed under caution, it is time to ignore contractual embargoes on the theories in the unpublished book.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Senwood. Drumheel Bottom. Scratchling Bottom. Yew Tree Cottage. Heck, Wodewough Wood (woodwo(se)) if you believe in Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti.
  • Insufferable Genius: His Grace has always been one, but until the spoilered Good Thing happens for him, he's a brilliant, cunning, cynical, ruthless, On The Side of Good, utter pr-ck for most of this one.
    "A man of preposterous energy, with a Catherine-wheel mind forever shooting off new sparks.... … (His intellectual arrogance, which he recognised as the most besetting and the worst of his sins, had grown monstrously in his hurry and his frenetic pace of work since his brother’s death. He was aware of it, but helpless against it, as, with middle age, habit hardened into character; and, with all his undertakings, the pace was too good to enquire.)"
  • Intolerable Tolerance: What the Duke – with his allies, secular and clerical – is accused of for defending John Treasure Voss.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: The Duke considers that his sister-in-law Lady Crispin is getting intolerable, and needs a husband, who shan't be him. Lady Crispin is reflecting that her brother-in-law the Duke is becoming utterly unbearable, and needs a wife, who shan't be her. (Cue up an extract from the journal of a prior duke, regarding a mooted and ill-fated diplomatic mission to China, who reflects that whoever the poor bugger is who's sent, it shan't by God be him.)
  • Irony: What befalls John Treasure Voss due to his working on his book, "Merely Conventional Signs": Lewis Carroll’s portraits in the context of Victorian child-photography.
  • Is That Cute Kid Yours?: Footballer Kevin Bagnall manages this one when he encounters Canon Paddick, Sher Mirza, and Wee Molly, and has to be gently told they aren't a couple (well, other than a Chastity Couple, and not co-parenting any child). Assuming poor Bagnall can hear the gentle correction over Edmond's hilarity.
  • Jerkass: The Duke is acting like one (only partly tactically) for most of the novel: to House-like levels. Any given Obstructive Bureaucrat is this at best.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The bureaucracy has a point as regards the Special Guardianship application by Canon Paddick to look after – at Will's insistence – Wee Molly, as he lives alone in the Rectory and could be called away at any moment to, e.g., a deathbed; but their proposed solution is offensive. The Duke has a point with reference to (a) breaking the bureaucracy by flank attacks so that they don't interfere with the Huskisson-Gates adoptions or the Canon's Special Guardianship, and start listening to the voters and elected councillors, and (b) the legal rights of the accused especially in a time of moral panic … but God is he a sh-t about it.
  • Large Ham: His Grace, to Bradenham, Wiltshire-cure, heritage breed levels, and lampshaded in universe by those who wisely wonder just why he's being so stagy about it.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: The Duke's a duke, and knows everyone. From MPs to Royals … and entertainers. Cue the panto (Aladdin, this year):
    "… typically, he had secured a production team which gave him considerable latitude in casting the thing, and assuring no one dreamt of declining, unlikely as that had in any case been: Roy Hudd … and HRH the earl of Wessex. The dire economic straits of the Empire, requiring that the Princess marry a rich suitor (and trust the duke to cobble together jokes about austerity, People’s Quantitative Easing, and Turandot), had led him to get in Milton Jones as the Seriously Confused Vizier – and Jimmy Carr and Ken Dodd as the Imperial Viziers of the Exchequer who had Certain Difficulties With Sums and Accountancy.note  He’d naturally secured Stephen Fry to play the Widow Twankey; Glenister as the Imperial Chief Constable (the actual Chief Constable ... and … Police and Crime Commissioner, had simply howled at that news), with Reeves and Mortimer as his subordinates in expanded roles; Hugh Laurie to play the Emperor as a sort of Woosterish, District Commissioner figure (naturally, the interactions between his Emperor and Fry’s Twankey were precisely what one should expect); and Patrick Stewart as Abanazar. (He’d have had BRIAN BLESSED!!!!! if he’d thought that great man’s ticker could bear the strain.)"
  • Like a Son to Me: Dad Stamford has always regarded Noel Paddick, widower of Dad's late daughter Pauline, as this. And then … well, just as well, really, he did.
    • And when Edmond (!!!) finds out he has a son.... Teddy insists (a) on adopting the lad in his capacity as Edmond's husband and (b) that the children they were already in the process of adopting be treated just the same.
  • Literary Allusion Title: This book; its chapter titles; the In-Universe Fictional Document which is John Treasure Voss' current manuscript.... The title of this very book sounds cuddly. Or would, if the entirety of the Psalm in question, and thus its context, weren't quoted as an epigraph to the first chapter.
  • Living Legend: See Famed In-Story, above. And listen to some whispers at the Special Forces Club and in Whitehall concerning the ducal past. His Grace's mere name, invoked by the Nawab, terrifies the acting ISI station chief at the Pakistan High Commission in London.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Happens to Edmond, of all people. The one time he slept with a woman.... Sher and Yeates the footman both think the same thing when they hear: not so much, "Edmond shagged a woman?" as "Edmond topped?"....
  • Magnificent Bastard (In-Universe): His Highness the Nawab so designates the Duke. Admiringly. And comparing him to a certain Patrician.
  • Meaningful Name: Played with, deconstructed, sewn back together, and buggered about. And lampshaded in a few cases. "Maidensigh" and "Senwood" are seen as this In-Universe, wrongly, among placenames; the Yenstocks are indeed this, as placenames ("Yen" from "Hen" from "Hengist"); Pip Allred is a pippin of a lad and a Man Utd supporter; Teddy's dad Grahame Gates is a civil engineer surveying for the canal; Lady Lacy (wait for it) networks with the lace-making ladies; and John Treasure Voss really must wish his cottage had a different name....
  • Military Brat: A new one for the series' long list: Alfie Jack Birkett, orphan of a Fusilier, who's being adopted by Teddy and Edmond.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: The series of total cock-ups over the Rideouts; and a threatened one as to John Treasure Voss.
  • Moral Guardians: Mrs Brickell and Miss Wadman, leading the mob, and, as punch-clock version out simply for a larger budget and a permanent post, Ms Elsworth.
  • Mysterious Past: The land itself has one: wherefore the archaeologists; and of course the Duke did some things in Iraq and Afghanistan which are rather closely held secrets.
  • Nice to the Waiter: The Duke continues to be perfectly lovely to tenants, shopkeepers, servants, and so on. And for most of the novel – if partly tactically – even more than commonly appalling to officials and social equals.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Er.... The lawyer-friendly cameos are just that. The lawyer-unfriendly cameos get a disclaimer (to the effect that the Duke's characterization of certain politicians and Edmond's view of the other side's politicians are their own, not the author's). And a few people are carefully named only by office and title (John Bercow, for one).
  • No Longer with Us: When the Duke announces that Hugo, the elderly Lord Mallerstang, has "gone home at last" and Teddy and Edmond get all sympathetic.
    "'Wha- – oh. Damn me, he didn't die, damn it all, we're not middle-class. If he'd died, I'd damned well say he'd damned well died. He's now back at Hellgill [Hall], the restorations to which are done and dusted. Good God.'"
  • Noodle Incident: There remain plenty of those in the ducal wartime past, and even where we get a few details, it's not complete. What we do know now is that there are wild borderlands where he's known as "the Red Wolf" from an old Pashto proverb, after ambushing a Taliban ambush and quoting two other Pashto proverbs to the Taliban commander, once before an unspecified trifling intervening difficulty and once, after it … to the man's corpse; and that there was – once – an Afghan National Police colonel who took his bribes in young boys. Got blown up by a roadside IED, dontcherknow. Embarrassin', really, what?, as the unit the duke was doing intel for had only just cleared the road, and the duke had sent him down it to meet with an informant who refused to deal with Major the Duke of Taunton. But at least in the confusion the captive boys escaped across the nearby frontier to Pakistan, where the Nawab's Begum happened to run a charity for such abuse cases, so Providence had evidently intervened. The duke reveals the latter details to the Commissioner and the Chief Constable, casually, in passing.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Morally neutral ones in the Wiltshire adoption and special guardianship cases; downright evil ones in Dorset; and one utter fool on the Wilts Planning Staff who is ranting about the Duke and how Teddy's a mere puppet … with Teddy just outside the door. (She is now redundant-as-in-sacked.)
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Specially notable with Fr Bohun. He has put away these things … but when a visiting yob is found to have been, briefly, a squaddie, Fr Bohun, calling at his holiday cottage (with Canon Paddick and Fr Campion in reserve, Large and in Charge) to … remonstrate … with the man, wears his MC ribbon on his cassock. And speaks in a very parade-ground voice. The Duke is an officer; but a peer, not a gentleman … in any sense.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The Duke is much darker throughout much of the book than usual. Part of it's tactical. Part of it … isn't.
  • Parental Abandonment: Voluntary, at least as to the extent of utter neglect, as to "Gadabout Gladdie" Rideout, that rural drab; involuntary when it comes to the parents of the Birkett and Hoyle orphans, and Su Allred as to Young Pip; and as to Meg Stamford's death and Will Stamford's becoming disabled, leaving it up to Noel to raise Wee Molly hereafter.
  • Parental Substitute: Teddy and Edmond are seeking to adopt. And then … Edmond turns out to have had a son he didn't know about; and Noel has to take on the role for his tiny niece.
  • Please Select New City Name: Street-wise, there's a "Grapecount Lane" in Wolminster now; and a number of placenames in the area have evolved or got Normanized in Domesday Book: some of which we get to track through the successive fictional documents.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Noel Paddick and Sher Mirza are a permanent They Don't, Won't, and Shan't, and Stop Nagging Them.
  • Quitting to Get Married: Lady Lacy takes a sabbatical for fieldwork, retaining her fellowship, but intends to remain on sabbatical for a lot longer, and not only to supervise the ongoing years'-worth of archaeology in the Woolfonts and Downlands.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Sher and Noel decline to take one, even in the face of pressure … including from the authorities, who think it would be best for Wee Molly that Uncle Noel take a live-in partner. On the other hand … Lady Crispin accepts Giles Trulock's proposal … while they are, with others, up in Westmorland for the Appleby Horse Fair; and Lady Lacy – now soon to be Duchess of Taunton – corners the Duke at last. He says yes.
  • Retraux: The canal restoration; the "Woollybus" vehicles … the Duke is damned if modern styles are going to overrun his model villages.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Brexit, paedo panics, collapsing police investigations, Baby-P style cock-ups by the Department of Child Disservices, independent investigations of the police and child protection investigations.... Tick.
  • Scenery Porn: Oh, boy. The eternal, sheep-haunted Downs beneath the illimitable sky, the Vale of the little dairies (Thomas Hardy shoutout!), ancient Wodewough Wood (and its infernal counterpart, the Mirkwoody Senwood).... This one takes it up a notch, eclogues, georgics, pastoral, and all … and with extra shades, shadows, and darkness for contrast. But it's not just Scenery Porn: it's the camouflage for whole batteries of Chekhov's Artillery emplacements.
  • Secret-Keeper: The scholar John Treasure Voss learns the hard way that keeping an embargo on an innocent discovery can strike some people – police included – as suspicious; and in another scholarly field, the archaeologists are sitting very tight on some finds.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The land itself and Wodewough in particular; and, even now, the ducal war record. And by the end of the book, Wodewough is still mythic, even as the team, whose previous high point had been finding more traces of an Iron Age settlement, have discovered a quite early Palaeolithic biface (hand axe) there. There is a lot of unshrouding left to do. Years of it.
  • Significant Name Overlap (In-Universe): Canon Paddick's late mentor Fr Matthew Pryor played cricket for Harrow but is not Matt Prior the England cricketer; Dr Barbara Winton of the archaeology team is no near relation to the daughter of Sir Nicholas Winton; and – in a sly one – her colleague Jack Herries is said to have, even now, a gap-year mentality.
  • Steam Never Dies: The Woolfonts & Chickmarsh Railway proves that. The problem is that steam experts do die, or retire, or must take compassionate leave when there's a family tragedy. This means temporarily giving a Rank Up to subordinates with the proper certificates, whose posts must then be filled in turn. The Duke's solution? His retired Gurkhas, plus FE learners, apprentices, and school-leavers and the Upper Forms doing Design & Technology at the Free School.
  • The Strategist: His Grace. Who seems to have met his match literally, and at last, in Lady Lacy, the soon to be Duchess of Taunton. And, equally, the Nawab, for that matter; and the Headmaster.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: DNA is all very well, but Pip's paternity is written all over him.
  • Technology Porn: Silk, wool, lace-making, steam railways, restored pre-War country buses, archaeology.... Oh, yeah.note 
  • Think of the Children!: The battlecry of the Moral Guardians, whether as to camboys or Carroll scholars. Not a one of them is thinking twice about the children; merely about their own benefit.
  • Title Drop: From the Psalm 104 epigraph; and a comment of Dr. Witchard's, in which she – doubtless subconsciously – uses a phrase from the ecclesiastical Kalendar (which would horrify her, if she realized she had done), is the title of the next book to come, Ordinary Time.
  • To Win Without Fighting: The inevitable ducal approach. By the time he's buffaloed the Council into approving planning for Wendy houses at Edmond-and-Teddy's and at the Rectory, it's politically impossible to slow-walk the adoptions and the special guardianship, let alone deny them; by the time he's made the Council look racist if they oppose his plan to reopen the old atching tans (campsites) to the Romanichal, that body is simply cowed; by the time he's savaged the Police for one PCSO's officiousness in cautioning the clergy against giving alms to tramps, they're unwilling to touch Dorset's disaster in the making (and in fact end up running the independent inquiry into the failures of Dorset and Thames Valley, a twist cooked up by the Duke, the Nawab, the Home Secretary, and the Lord Chancellor).
  • The Vicar: Not the Canon as Rector of the expanded Combined Benefice and his curates, every last one of whom subverts this trope to hell and gone.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: None of the Moral Guardians or a single Obstructive Bureaucrat is even well-intentioned. The Duke, however, is trembling on the verge for much of the novel until Lady Lacy pulls him back, and is so determined to break the bureaucracy to the will of the people and their elected officials, he's using every bit of backstairs influence he has and every undemocratic means he can think up.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: His Grace is a grandmaster. He will get his desired results, come what may, and damn the cost. Including, as it happens, one he never considered or planned for: Millicent Lacy as his fiancee, and the next Duchess of Taunton. After all, he's placed himself, unintentionally or subconsciously, in the position where she has the chance to save him from himself....
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: If quarreling with his old friends, including the Commissioner and the Chief Constable, and eviscerating bureaucrats, and pissing off everyone from the Prime Minister on down, and dragging his friends into this even at risk to their adoption and special guardianship applications, is what it takes to secure justice and the rule of law, the Duke is more than willing to make himself universally hated. Of course, when it's his opponents who come out of it with a substantial In-Universe Hatedom instead, he's perfectly content with that....