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BethR

Clerical mysteries

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I suppose most have at least heard of G.K. Chesterton's "Father Brown" mysteries, and now that I'm thinking about this topic, in the 60's, Harry Kemelman wrote a series with a rabbi amateur detective, starting with Friday the Rabbi Slept Late.

William X. Kienzle wrote the Father Koesler mysteries.

Yesterday a friend recommended In the Bleak Midwinter, the first of four mysteries (so far) by Julia Spencer-Fleming, in which crimes are solved by Episcopal priest Rev. Clare Fergusson (f) and the local chief of police (m). Won some awards; reviews were enthusiastic, though amazon.com reviewers somewhat less so.

Amazon.com then thought I might also enjoy Crooked Heart, first in a series by Christina Sumners, who has also devised a team of a police chief and "Rev. Dr. Kathryn Koerney, a [seminary professor] and associate of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church." This one was in our local library, so I'm about to read it. Will report back later.

Any other suggestions? Reviews?

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I suppose most have at least heard of G.K. Chesterton's "Father Brown" mysteries, and now that I'm thinking about this topic, in the 60's, Harry Kemelman wrote a series with a rabbi amateur detective, starting with Friday the Rabbi Slept Late.

William X. Kienzle wrote the Father Koesler mysteries.

Yesterday a friend recommended In the Bleak Midwinter, the first of four mysteries (so far) by Julia Spencer-Fleming, in which crimes are solved by Episcopal priest Rev. Clare Fergusson (f) and the local chief of police (m). Won some awards; reviews were enthusiastic, though amazon.com reviewers somewhat less so.

Amazon.com then thought I might also enjoy Crooked Heart, first in a series by Christina Sumners, who has also devised a team of a police chief and "Rev. Dr. Kathryn Koerney, a [seminary professor] and associate of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church." This one was in our local library, so I'm about to read it. Will report back later.

Any other suggestions? Reviews?

One obvious suggestion is to check out the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters, in which the medieval English monk solves various murder mysteries, all while making it back to the monastery in time for Compline every evening. To be honest, although I'm fond of the stories themselves, I'm not particularly fond of Ellis Peters the writer. The PBS series starring Derek Jacobi gives the lie to the cliche that the book is always better than the movie. Not this time.

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How could I forget Brother Cadfael? Probably because--as you say--the books are just not that well written. That reminds me of another medieval clerical detective, Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma, a 7th c. Irish nun. Tremayne writes better than Peters, too.

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Don't know if anyone has read Margery Allingham's Tiger in the Smoke, but a C of E cleric plays a crucial role in the proceedings. It's a mystery novel, certainly, but it's also a novel in which the reader is faced with very intense questions about God and the nature of sin, repentance and more - it's modest (Allingham stayed with what she did best), but very incisive.

That reminds me of The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers, in which a C of E cleric plays a somewhat less crucial role, mostly because it's set in and around a church, but perhaps for that reason it may be the most concerned with the same types of spiritual issues of any Sayers mystery, and is liberally sprinkled with scripture.

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Amazon.com then thought I might also enjoy Crooked Heart, first in a series by Christina Sumners, who has also devised a team of a police chief and "Rev. Dr. Kathryn Koerney, a [seminary professor] and associate of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church." This one was in our local library, so I'm about to read it. Will report back later.

I'm pleased to report that Crooked Heart was well-written and suspenseful, more character-driven than whodunnit. Sumners is priest herself, so really knows what she's talking about in that area. I'd recommend it.

Now my only problem is that the library has none of the later books, so it's either ILL or purchase. Sumners is good, but not laying-out-cash, permanent-commitment good, even if she has read her Dorothy L. Sayers.

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After ordering Julia Spencer-Fleming's In the Bleak Midwinter via inter-library-loan, I found it on the public library shelf after all, but none of the more recent volumes in her series.

Although Spencer-Fleming's website notes that this novel won "more major mystery awards than any debut mystery, ever!" I found it more tediously plotted than Christina Sumners' novel, and even though the clerical detective Clare Fergusson's background includes Army survival training, it seems unlikely that the average small-town parish would put up with the amount of running around and interfering with police business that she does in this book. Maybe both author and detective improve their techniques as the series continues.

Spencer-Fleming's site led me to two more authors of clerical mysteries, however. She interviews Kate Charles and Michelle Blake.

Kate Charles interviewed by the Church Times.

There seems to be a trend here...may have to link this thread to the Ordination: Men Only? thread B)

Edited by BethR

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But there's more! The Kate Charles Church Times interview (linked in previous post), mentioned another Anglican clerical detective, Merrily Watkins, created by Phil Rickman.

I don't know why all these contemporary clerical detectives are women and Anglican or ECUSA, unless it has something to do with added opportunities for conflict, and possibly the fact that women may be the largest market for mystery novels. I'm just saying...

Someone wants to make a mint, write a mystery in which someone like Chuck Swindoll or Rick Warren solves mysteries. I'm serious. :huh:

Edited by BethR

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Apparently I'm the only person interested in this topic, but just in case someone else (besides Andy) might still be, the current issue of Books and Culture has an essay by Joseph Bottum on "Religious mysteries," that includes both novels with clerical detectives and those written from within religious perspectives. "God and the Detectives."

As a regular contributor to First Things, he's predictably snarky towards female clerics, and dismisses Sayers' Gaudy Night as a "Mary Sue" fanfic. No! A thought-provoking read, & mentions some of the books already noted above, as well as many others.

Link to the general mysteries and detective stories thread.

Edited by BethR

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I should note, so Beth won't feel so alone, that back in the day I was very fond of the Rabbi Small mysteries. Could usually identify with the congregational politics.

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I should note, so Beth won't feel so alone, that back in the day I was very fond of the Rabbi Small mysteries. Could usually identify with the congregational politics.

This makes me want to read them. Faye Kellermann started a Peter Lazerus police procedural series a while back. One of the early novels has a murder investigation involving a small, private orthodox jewish sect. Subsequent novels wrestle with his SBC background (he was adopted) and an exploration of his jewish roots. Excellent window into orthodox jewish faith and practice.

D. Keith Mano wrote Topless. A discouraged young Piskie priest in Nebraska leaves a parish he might have been fired from anyway to run a "bar" owned by his brother in Queens. It's topless. He also investigates his brother's whereabouts. I lent it out long ago. Would love to reread that.

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