Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Fictional Clergy Detectives III

Medieval Nuns Who Solve Mysteries.  You would not believe how many series fall into this category.  I include only a few of the better ones here.

Sister Fidelma is the creation of Peter Tremayne, the pen name of Irish journalist Peter Ellis. Ellis has degrees in Celtic studies and that background allows him to create a very believable world for his sleuth.  Sister Fidelma is a “religieuse” or nun in mid-7th C. Ireland, the period in which Celtic Christianity was being overpowered and subordinated to the increasingly autocratic Church of Rome.  At this time in Irish history, monks and nuns could still marry (as could “secular” priests throughout Western Europe) and many convents and monasteries were mixed sex in composition.  Women could still manage to wield considerable authority, too.  Sister Fidelma is not only a nun, but a dalaigh, an advocate of the ancient laws of Ireland, a position that combined features of the modern police investigator with the modern attorney at law.  (She is also sister to the Irish king!)  The Celtic names are difficult, but the laws and customs are clearly explained in each book.  Tremayne’s descriptive passages need some work, but he constructs suspenseful plots.  This is the best series of “Medieval nuns who are detectives.”

  • Absolution by Murder (1994).
  • Shroud for the Archbishop (1995).
  • Suffer Little Children (1995).
  • The Subtle Serpent (1996).
  • The Spider’s Web (1997).
  • Valley of the Shadow (1998).
  • The Monk Who Vanished (1999).
  • Act of Mercy (1999).
  • Hemlock at Vespers(2000). A collection of Sister Fidelma short stories.
  • Our Lady of Darkness (2000).
  • Smoke in the Wind (2001).
  • The Haunted Abbot (2002).
  • Badger’s Moon (2003).
  • The Leper’s Bell (2004).
  • Whispers of the Dead (2004). More short stories.
  • Master of Souls (2005).

Catherine LeVendeur is the creation of Sharan Newman (1949-) who has an M.A. in Medieval Literature and has completed work for a Ph.D. in history. LeVendeur is a novice when we first meet her, sent to a convent by her father because she is too intelligent and headstrong for him to successfully marry off. The year is 1139, LeVendeur is 18, and she has become a novice at the Convent of the Paraclete in France. Her Abess is Heloise (who, in actual history, was the lover of the philosopher-theologian Peter Abelard before the relationship was broken up and the lovers forced into separate holy orders!) Before the end of the first novel, Catherine is an ex-nun and in subsequent novels is married.  So, this series may not actually fit the category of “clergy detectives” even when stretched to include nuns.  I haven’t read this series, but the descriptions of Catherine and Edgar’s marriage sound too modern to be believable–even though I know there were more strong-willed, independent, and powerful women in the Middle Ages than we generally think.  Still, it is true that our Western concept of Romantic love began in the Middle Ages, even if few marriages were love matches. There are other parts that don’t ring true. One reviewer said the novels tend to read like a view of Medieval France from the perspective of a contemporary American Jew, rather than from the perspective of the characters themselves.

  • Death Comes as Epiphany (1993).
  • The Devil’s Door (1994).
  • The Wandering Arm (1995).
  • Strong as Death (1996).
  • Cursed in the Blood (1998).
  • The Difficult Saint (1999).
  • To Wear the White Cloak (2000).
  • Heresy (2002).
  • The Outcast Dove (2003).
  • The Witch in the Well (2004).

Prioress Eleanor is the creation of Priscilla Royale who appends historical notes to the back of the 3 novels to date in this series.  She has created an interesting cast of characters and background. Eleanor is a nun in the Order of Fontrevand, an actual monastic order (which no longer exists) whose mother house was in Paris, though these stories are set in England. Fontrevand was a rare (for the time) double order: monks and nuns housed separately in double houses, but with the Prioress head of both the monks and nuns–an order most thought unnatural.  We begin in the year 1270 and Saxons still chafe under Norman rule.  Eleanor of Wynthethorpe is the only daughter of a minor Norman lord who was raised mostly in a convent. At 20, she is appointed prioress of her own abbey (Tyndal) over more experienced women–with predictable results.  She solves crimes in tandem with Brother Thomas, who, unknown to her, has no true calling as a monk. Rather, Thomas was a young clerk who was caught in a homosexual encounter and imprisoned and tortured and threatened with death at the stake  if he did not agree to become a monk–and an investigative spy for Mother Church. There had been no executions for “sodomy” in Britain at the time, but many were clamoring this punishment, which was common on the Continent. The fascinating thing about this series is that Eleanor privately struggles with feelings of lust for Brother Thomas (despite spending hours prostrate on cold concrete in penance!) while Thomas struggles to keep his sexual orientation and his past from Eleanor and his monastic community.  The first two mysteries are fairly believable, but by the third installment, it is difficult to believe that a Prioress from an isolated convent would have so many chance encounters with murder.  Royale’s strength as an author is to show us characters with the prejudices of their age, but also to show us that the Medieval World was not as monochromatic as we imagine. For instance, women had less rights in the Victorian era of than in the Middle Ages. Further, since death in childbirth was common, few children in the Middle Ages reached adulthood with both parents still alive, and often had a succession of step-parents. Thus, they had more in common with modern children than with the intact, two parent household of the idealized 1950s. The books are fun and if more are written, I will probably give them a try.

  • Wine of Violence (2003).
  • Tyrant of the Mind (2004).
  • Sorrow Without End (2006).

Contemporary Nuns Who Solve Crimes (Again, culled from an unbelievably long list.)

Sister Cecile is the most unbelievable of these fictional sleuthing women religious.  The creation of the late Winona Sullivan, Sister Cecile is a rich heiress whose father (a professional atheist) had tied up her inheritance in such a way that she could not use it for religious purposes. She gets around this by becoming a licensed private investigator (hanging her P.I. license between a copy of the Sistine Madonna and a gold framed photo of her mother). Through an arrangement with her order, she accesses her inheritance through her credit card for non-religious purposes, the expenses of her investigations. Profits earned are then able to go to her order. (Sure, because this happens all the time!)

There are four (4) Sister Cecile novels:

  • A Sudden Death at the Norfolk Cafe (1993).
  • Dead South (1996).
  • Death’s a Beach (1998).
  • Saving Death (2000).

Aimee and David Thurlo write the mysteries of Sister Agatha, a former investigative journalist and journalism professor who had not been a pillar of virtue before becoming a nun. She is an extern nun at Our Lady of Hope convent in the New Mexico desert. The order (the Sisters of the Blessed Adoration) is fictional, but based on 2 actual cloistered orders that have special meaning to Aimee. As an extern nun, Sister Agatha is responsible for her order’s interaction with the external world and does not have to celebrate all the liturgical offices with the other 9 sisters of the order.  As with many real world convents and female religious orders, this one suffers from a dearth of new vocations!

To date, there are 4 Sister Agatha mysteries:

  • Bad Faith(2002).  With a Sartrean title like that, one would think this was about a ’60s style liberal Protestant, rather than a Catholic nun!
  • Thief in Retreat (2004).
  • Prey for a Miracle (2006).
  • False Witness (2007).

Famed author Anthony Boucher (1911-1968), writing under the pen name of H. H. Holmes (which was also the pseudonymn used by an infamous real life criminal!), wrote the 2 novels of Sister Ursula.Boucher was a devout, pre-Vatican II Catholic who served as a layreader. This helps give these novels some air of realism and his mystery writing skills are superior to many of the other “nun-as-sleuth” novelists.  If you are only going to sample one series in this category, go with the Sister Ursula novels.

  • Nine Times Nine (1940).
  • Rocket to the Morgue (1942).

Alison Josephs (1959-), a journalist and British TV producer turned novelist, has created the Sister Agnes series. She studied the detective genre for some time before trying her hand. She decided that the most successful fictional sleuths were those with no ties like Philip Marlowe. She decided to make her heroine a nun since it is otherwise difficult to imagine a woman without ties, without anyone relying on her such as a mother, daughter, or husband/partner.  Sister Agnes has been a nun for 15 years when we meet her and is now outside of a convent running a project for runaway teens.  This is a far more believable setting for a nun getting entangled in murder mysteries, in my opinion.  This is a contemporary series and gives no easy answers of faith–Sister Agnes struggles with her doubts and fears and, having been in an abusive marriage before becoming a nun, continues to struggle with her vow of chastity. (Her temptations are sexually explicit, so this is not a series to introduce to young readers.)

  • Sacred Hearts (1994).
  • The Hour of Our Death (1995).
  • The Quick and the Dead (1996).
  • A Dark and Sinful Death (1997).
  • The Dying Light (1999).
  • The Night Watch (2000).
  • The Darkening Sky (2004).
  • Shadow of Death (2007).

Anglican/Episcopalian Priests as Fictional Sleuths

This is ALSO a much longer list than I would have expected. So, once more, I am only going to list the best of those I have surveyed. 

The Revd. Harry Westerham, Vicar of Cobbleswick (46 mi. from London) was the creation of Victor. L. Whitechurch (1868-1933), himself an Anglican vicar.  He appeared in only one book with a rather dated English dialogue. But the Revd. Westerham is a very interesting and engaging sleuth–far more so than many of the Medieval nuns!  The Crime at Diana’s Pool (1926) may be difficult to locate in your local library or second hand bookstore, but keep at it.

The Rev. Charles Meyer (1947-2000), an Episcopal priest in the American Southwest, actually created not one, but TWO priest-detectives!  Rev. Lucas (Father) Holt is a former prison chaplain who has reluctantly taken over St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in downtown Austin. We are told that this parish has well-off parishioners whose theology covers everything from charismatic fundamentalists to social justice liberals “and every perversion in between!”  Fr. Holt maintains regular contact with a group of ex-cons he helped rehabilitate and seems to like many of them more than some of his parishioners.   He is a priest with a strong social conscience and one can find 3 excellent novels with him as protagonist:

  • The Saints of God Murders (1995).
  • Blessed Are the Merciless (1996). The title sounds to me like the way Dick Cheney misreads the Bible.
  • Beside the Still Waters (1997).

The other priest detective created by Meyers is Rev. Matt Beck, chaplain of Grassland Hospital, NYC.  Beck worked his way through General Theological Seminary (an actual Episcopal Seminary) while working a part-time job and working full time on his marriage. He was only married two years, though, before his wife was murdered–which is ten years before we first meet him. He’s now dating a photojournalist.  In the only novel featuring Fr. Beck, Deathangel (2000), he encounters a serial killer.

Margaret Scherf (1908-1979) created one of the more interesting clerical detectives in The Rev. Dr. Martin Buell, a round, widower with a sardonic sense of humor who has been sent to take over Christ Church, Farrington, CO. As a high church Episcopalian, he finds the parish far too Low Church Protestant and keeps threatening to quit and become a cattle rancher.  These are mid-20th C. and may be a bit dated, but some church problems seem perennial–as is murder, unfortunately. 

  • Always Murder a Friend (1948).
  • For the Love of Murder. Orig. Title: Gilbert’s Last Toothache (1949).
  • Divine and Deadly.   Orig. Title:  The Curious Custard Pie (1950).
  • The Elk and the Evidence (1952).
  • The Cautious Overshoes (1956).
  • Never Turn Your Back (1959).
  • The Corpse in the Flannel Nightgown (1965).

Rev. Lily Connor is a “tentmaker,” an ordained minister who, like the Apostle Paul, works at a trade outside the church, often in addition to church duties. Rev. Connor is the creation of Michelle Blake, who teaches in the English Dept. at Tufts University and lives near Boston. Blake earned a Master of Theological Studies at Harvard and considered becoming an Episcopal Priest herself.Connor is a theological liberal, trying to make sense of faith and God in our complex post-modern world. She has her share of hang-ups and problems.  This makes her a character with which many readers can identify, but it comes close at times to not taking her identity as a priest seriously.

  • The Tentmaker (1999). Lily is called to be an interim pastor and ends up solving the murder of her predecessor.
  • Earth Has No Sorrow(2001). Lily is working for a Women’s Center and the plot involves explorations of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in Christian churches.
  • The Book of Light (2003). Lily is now a campus chaplain at “Tate” University, a fictional counterpart to Tufts, where the author works.  Her relationship with a police photographer is not one that we would tolerate in a male minister and the plot has WAY too many Da Vinci Code overtones for my taste, but Lily remains an interesting protagonist.

Christina Summers, who has taught English and worked in churches, has B.A. in English from Vassar, an MDiv. from the (Episcopal) General Theological Seminary, and an MPhil in Medieval English studies from Oxford.  Her priest/sleuth creation is The Rev. Dr. Kathryn Koerney, a divorced Episcopal priest who is based at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Harton, NJ, a parish in which “everyone seemed to have either money or brains,” but apparently not both.  The fictional church is modeled after Trinity Church in Princeton, which is the real counterpart to Harton.  Koerney isn’t in an illicit affair, but seems to hover at the edges of it, since she helps solve crimes with a police chief who is in an unhappy marriage–and finds him very attractive.  Again, while I find the nearly sinless Fr. Brown to be boring, I am troubled that these interesting fictional female priests are not being held to the same standards of sexual ethics we would demand of their male counterparts. This is just the opposite of my experience in real life, where I find that male ministers get away with far too much that would have resulted in the firing or even defrocking of female counterparts LOONG before. 

  • Crooked Heart (2002). Characters are interesting, but the plot is somewhat slow.
  • Thieves Break In (2004).  Time and place changes are abrupt and complicated.
  • Familiar Friend (2006). The murder is complicated by an unresolved three-way love affair.

Carol Fosher Chase, an ex-pat American become a British citizen, writes under the pen name of Kate Charles. She has created an engaging priest/sleuth, The Revd. Callie Anson, newly arrived curate of All Saints’ Church in Paddington, London (a fictional counterpart to All Souls’ Church?).  Callie, aged 30, has just broken up with her fiance, Adam, who, awkwardly, is now a curate in the same diocese. (Oy!) She has a very demanding mother who is never satisfied with her and a brother who is happy as an out gay man and whose company she loves.  Peter, the brother, first called her “Callie,” as a child when he could not pronounce her given name of Caroline.  These mysteries are very well grounded in the politics of the Church of England (or so my ecumenical contacts tell me–it’s been over a decade since I was in the UK and I was exploring British BAPTIST life!), but this might be confusing to some American readers.  Oddly, Callie doesn’t seem to do much of the detecting in these mysteries, though, in all other ways, she’s the protagonist. That might be more realistic (Honestly, have you ever met even ONE clergy detective?), but it seems to buck the nature of the genre. 

  • Evil Intent (2005).
  • Secret Sins (2007).

Fictional Protestant Ministers Who Solve Crimes.

Charles Merrill Smith (?-1985) was a liberal United Methodist minister and created a sleuth in that image, Rev. C. P. Randollph.  Randollph is an ex-football quarterback (nicknamed “Con Randollph” by the sportswriters for the way he could fool defensive lines) who quit professional sports to enroll in seminary and eventually become a church historian and then, for our reading pleasure, Senior Minister of the Chicago Methodist Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. This large, wealthy, parish is located on the bottom floors of a large office block skyscraper that includes a hotel but comes complete with a gothic spire on top and an octagonal parsonage directly below.  The Church owns the entire building and gets much of its income from the rent from the various secular businesses.  When I read a few of these novels in the ’70s, I assumed that this was Smith’s sarcastic depiction of the horrible mega-church phenomenon. Sadly, no. It is based on a real parish: Chicago Temple, First United Methodist Church of Chicago. Sigh.

The character of Randollph is too upper-middle class for my tastes and his parish too obscenely wealthy. Further, Randolph’s theology seems to be nothing but the “cheap liberalism” (there are other kinds) of much of the white Protestantism of the late ’60s and early ’70s.  You read these novels and find out more about what Randolph doesn’t believe than what he does.  (It would be hilarious to have a C. P. Randollph meet a theologian like Stanley Hauerwas and watch the fur fly!) What makes Randollph a good detective is his apparently Niebuhrian/Augustinian view of sin and human nature, but he seems jaded to me. Both the social activists and the fundamentalists are portrayed more sympathetically in some stories.  I seem to remember liking these books more when I was younger, but I suspect my distaste now is a sign of age or something.

  • Reverend Randollph and the Wages of Sin (1974).
  • Reverend Randollph and the Avenging Angel (1976).
  • Reverend Randollph and the Fall From Grace, Inc. (1978).
  • Reverend Randollph and the Holy Terror (1980).
  • Reverend Randollph and the Unholy Bible (1983).
  • Reverend Randollph and the Splendid Samaritan(1986). Finished posthumously by son Terence Smith.

The Rev. Raymond Sebastian is a rare example of a clergy detective who comes from the American conservative white evangelical context.  Once again, it is an example of authors writing what they know. Sebastian is the creation of James L. Johnson (1927-1987), who attended Moody Bible Institute before going to Nigeria as a missionary. He eventually edited the evangelical magazine  Africa Challenge and later earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Michigan.  His creation, Rev. Sebastian, “always considered himself a poor excuse” for a minister. He had lost his wife 5 years before in an auto wreck for which he blamed himself.  He attributed his ready acceptance in church circles to his father, “the most famous Bible expositor in America.”  Pulpit committees lined up to interview and hire him without ever hearing him preach, examining his doctrine, etc. simply on the basis of his famous last name. (Readers: If you think this doesn’t happen–and not just in white evangelical circles–you are quite naive about church politics!) And so, he becomes the unhappy minister of an evangelical church in Nashville, WI. (Denomination never revealed.)  Sebastian is sincere, but not very gifted at ministry. However, he ends up finding an unexpected talent at solving mysteries.   The books are fun and, while not preachy, respectful of the conservative evangelical context.  Sebastian, however, seems to become a kind of secret agent.

  • Code Name Sebastian (1967).
  • The Nine Lives of Alphonse (1968).
  • A Handful of Dominoes (1970).
  • A Piece of the Moon is Missing (1974). I haven’t read this one, but the plot is highly unlikely.
  • The Last Train from Canton (1981).
  • Trackless Seas(1987). Sebastian has been defrocked because his denomination has, finally, concluded that his clandestine work over the years was not in keeping with his ordination vows.

Rev. Calvin Truman Turkstra, whose adventures I have NOT read, is also from the American evangelical camp, but in the Christian Reformed sub-culture–a transplanted Dutch Calvinism that thrives in the U.S. Midwest, especially Michigan. Author Christopher Meehan came from this background and also was a reporter for a newspaper in Grand Rapids, MI–the Mecca of American Dutch Calvinism! Rev. Turkstra has a love/hate relationship with his Dutch Calvinism. He has outward signs of rebellion (e.g., long hair, Rolling Stones T-shirts, etc.), but is not overly rebellious of the ethical and theological culture of the denomination. I plan on investigating the novels.

  • Deadly Waters (1995).
  • Murder on the Grand (1997).
  • Murder on Sacred Ground (2006).

Michael Lister was a chaplain at the Florida State Prison for 7 years before turning to writing full time in 2000.  Having read the Father Brown mysteries, he decided to create a prison chaplain sleuth and did so with John Jordan. Jordan is an ex-cop turned minister who was hounded out of his Atlanta parish (and his marriage) by accusations of sexual misconduct. He’s now a recovering alcoholic and his ability to resist the temptation to drink keeps him believing in God.  He is now a prison chaplain and, like the author, resists organized religion, but has a strong vocation to minister to the abandoned and forgotten.  I have not read these mysteries and they are supposed to include graphic violence–not for young readers or those with weak stomachs.

  • Power in the Blood (1997).
  • Blood of the Lamb (2004).
  • Flesh and Blood (2006). This one is a collection of short stories.

P. L. Gaus, an Amishlieben or friend of the Amish, has written a series of mysteries set in Ohio Amish country.  They have as their protagonist, Pastor Caleb Troyer, an Amish-descended pastor of an independent Church of Christ in the sleepy college town of Millersburg, OH.  These sound worthy of investigation and I hope to make time to read them in the near future.

  • Blood of the Prodigal (1999).
  • Broken English (2000).
  • Clouds Without Rain (2001).
  • Cast a Blue Shadow (2003). This description to an outsider rings true to any who have tried to sort out the Amish/Mennonite strands: “at the simplest level, and this wouldn’t be at all considered to be a thorough listing, we have the most conservative Old Order Amish, what you might call house Amish, then Beachy Amish, Church Amish, Swiss Mennonites, Old Mennonites, Wisler Mennonites, Mennonites , New Amish or Apostolic Christian, Reformed Mennonites, and, most liberal, Oak Grove Mennonites up in Wayne County …. It’d take a trained sociologist years to sort out the differences, and then it’d probably be wrong … Other Amish groups have split over things as little as putting a side glass window in a buggy.”  It almost makes Baptist splits seem kind of tame, by comparison!

Other “Clerical” Detectives:

Elizabeth Eliott is an elderly Clerk of an unprogrammed Friends (Quaker) Meeting in Cambridge, MA. She is the creation of Irene Allen, the pen-name of Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a Geologist and herself a practising Quaker.  Historical note: The Friends/Quaker tradition founded by George Fox and Margaret Fell in the mid-1600s (“There is One who Speaketh to Thy Condition, Even Jesus Christ!”) splintered, especially in the U.S., in the 19th C.  The Hicksite or Liberal Friends are the most traditional in form of worship and church order and in traditional ethical and lifestyle commitments: “Church” is a name reserved for the universal gathering of Christians. Instead, Friends gather at Weekly, Monthly, and Yearly Meetings.  There are no ordained or paid clergy (something that some Baptists would have agreed with; Roger Williams’ The Hireling Ministry None of Christ’s!comes to mind and it was written during the same period that the early Quakers arose). Every member is to be a minister and an evangelist or “publisher of Truth.” Meetings for Worship are conducted in silence until someone is moved by the Light Within to speak a word or sing a hymn, etc.–something that may not happen for the whole time of worship. Since all of life is sacramental, the sacraments/ordinances have been completely spiritualized, i.e., there is no observance of water baptism or the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper.  But this group, though the most traditional in Quaker form, has largely lost the Christocentric shape of George Fox’s faith–with many Weekly Meetings devolved into a kind of Unitarianism.  Evangelical Friends, by contrast, have pastors and orders of service very like other evangelical congregations, including hymn singing and sermons. The only thing “Quaker” about them is that the outward forms of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are considered optional. Somewhere in the Middle is the Wilberite or Conservative Friends tradition which has both programmed and unprogrammed Meetings, but tries to retain the historic Christocentrism of Fox and the early Quakers. Ironically, the more liberal, unprogrammed Meetings have most strongly retained the historic Quaker commitment to nonviolence and pacifism, while this gets downplayed or even resisted in the (supposedly more biblically oriented) Evangelical Friends!  Elizabeth Elliot comes from the unprogrammed tradition and her local meeting is probably related to New England Yearly Meeting, though this is never explicitly stated.  Her skill at detecting is linked to her deep Quaker awareness that violence and deception are related intimately as are truth and nonviolence.  These are fun books, and Elliot is a fascinating character, but, one of great moral seriousness without being preachy.

  • Quaker Silence (1992).
  • Quaker Witness (1993).
  • Quaker Testimony (1996).
  • Quaker Indictment (1998).

Sister Rose Callahan is the fictional Shaker Eldress creation of Deborah Woodworth, a sociologist of religion who has deeply researched the Shaker movement. Only one living Shaker community remains. It is in Maine and dying out.  However, the fictional Sister Rose has a Shaker community in rural Kentucky. (Shakertown, KY is just a tourist attraction these days.) The Shaker movement arose in the 19th C. It was an earlier form of Pentecostalism. In some ways it was very “modern,” with an emphasis on gender equality and nonviolence and even feminine imagery for God to complement masculine imagery for God. But Shakers thought all Christians ought to be celibate. The men and women stayed in separate communal homes, but ate meals together.  They adopted abandoned children, but to have survived as a living option, they would have had to be far more aggressively evangelistic–or else believed in sex and procreation!  I have not read these novels, yet.

  • Death of a Winter Shaker (1997), set in 1936 in rural Kentucky.
  • A Deadly Shaker Spring (1998).
  • Sins of a Shaker Summer(1999).
  • A Simple Shaker Murder (2000).
  • Killing Gifts (2001).
  • Dancing Dead (2002).

Well, I hope you have enjoyed these posts, Gentle Readers, as breaks from blogging about religion and politics. 

I have been asked what I am writing since I told people that I started a book during my blogging hiatus. Well, I have outlined 3 books. One is a book on biblical interpretation and Christian ethics.  A second, which I am working on the hardest and hope to have published by 2009 (why ’09 in another post) is a book on progressive, peace and justice, Baptist churches–profiling 20 of them.  But, I have also outlined a detective novel.

Yes, I have decided to try my hand at the genre. I would like to see something about a Latino Pentecostal minister or an African-American woman Lutheran minister, etc., but I must write about what I know. My sleuth will be a white, male Baptist minister (Yes, my wife and my pastor are both female Baptist ministers, but I hope to write 1st person and I don’t think I am good enough at writing fiction yet to try a female perspective). He will be younger than I am and educated in the post-SBC diaspora of non-fundamentalist Baptist education in the South. He will be center-left in theology and progressive in political outlook with a deep concern for peace and social justice. I will set the stories in Neptune Beach, Florida (one of the Jacksonville Beaches) because I don’t want to set them in Louisville, and that’s the only other place I have lived long enough to describe really well. He’ll be newly arrived in a small congregation, just planted, of the Alliance of Baptists, that is still meeting at the local synagogue (which, naturally, doesn’t need the building on Sundays). He’ll be single at the beginning and have broken up with a fiancee.  He will be working on his dissertation for a Ph.D. in Church History, concentrating on Richard Overton and the Levellers. 🙂  Soon after arriving, a woman in a bikini will be found murdered in his office and soon a prominent member of the church will become the prime suspect for the police.  I hope you’re intrigued!


May 11, 2008 - Posted by | detective fiction


  1. Peter Ellis! What a coincidence … So you haven’t got typing dyslexia:-)

    Comment by steph | May 11, 2008

  2. A new minister working on a Ph.D. dissertation who has time to solve mysteries in his spare time? Good luck, Michael!

    Comment by haitianministries | May 11, 2008

  3. Right, Steph. I just conflated two different authors of clergy detectives.

    Dan, I plan to have my hero be earning his Ph.D. from one of the institutions that doesn’t have a close time limit on dissertation writing. Also, the initial murder will definitely interrupt his plans and I expect him to be forced to work on it because it represents a danger to his fledgling congregation. I am only at the character sketch and plot outline stage. Most of my writing is aimed at getting my book on progressive Baptist churches finished by ’09. But this novel is in the back of my mind–I think it has been percolating at a subconscious level for years.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 11, 2008

  4. I was delighted to read your insightful comments on my Callie Anson books. You’re the first reviewer to notice that Callie doesn’t actually do much detecting, but I do think it’s more realistic to allow her to do her own job, in ways that intersect with police investigations. I think the crime genre is a broad one, and I like to feel free to write novels that are non-formulaic.
    The third Callie book is within a chapter of being finished: watch for ‘Deep Waters’ within the next year or so.
    Good luck with your own detective novel!

    Comment by Kate Charles | May 18, 2008

  5. Wow, Kate, thanks! This is the first time I’ve ever had an author contact me about a review–especially on my blog! This blog is mostly about the intersection of faith and social justice, but I write on detective fiction and other things here as a break. Thanks for visiting.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 19, 2008

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