Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Building a Mystery

For any mystery lovers out there looking for books with a strong female protagonist and a clerical twist: My mother and I both enjoy Julia Spencer-Fleming's series featuring the Rev. Claire Fergusson, ex-Marine-turned Episcopal priest who fights crime while serving her parish in the Adirondacks. (Now, stop laughing; because I know you're laughing. You will only be asked to suspend your disbelief for a few pages per book.) The series includes In the Bleak Midwinter; A Fountain Filled With Blood; Out of the Depths I Cry; and, coming in June, To Darkness and To Death.

The Rev. Claire is actually one of the more multidimensional sleuths I have come across in genre fiction; and the author's insights into the inner workings of parish life -- the interpersonal frictions, Vestry Members From Hell, major church controversies played out on the congregational level -- are, as they say, spot on. The Rev. Claire possesses a very real, very thought-out and lived-out Christian faith, which I find refreshing. There is also an ongoing subplot involving the priest and the local sheriff that -- well, I'm not going to spill the beans, but the last novel ended at a critical juncture, and Mom and I are both anxiously awaiting the next book to see how things will shake out.

I think the Rev. Claire is swell. She'd make a great action figure too, with major potential for accessorizing -- her Roman-collared daywear, clerical robes and vestments in appropriate liturgical colors, her old Marine dress uniform, maybe some martial-arts gear. She'd kick Barbie's butt in more ways than one.

Anyhow...check out these books. Good beach reading for the coming summer.

14 comments:

ding said...

ah, but wait until you read about the reverend merrily watkins, special exorcist for a parish on the welsh border. it's fabulous, scary and surprisingly intelligent. (phil rickman is the author of the series.)

LutheranChik said...

I'll have to check that out.

An exorcist, eh? Does she hire out?;-)

bls said...

I was laughing. Good one.

;-)

Songbird said...

Is there a Bernese Mountain Dog in one of her books? I believe somewhere I heard that.

*Christopher said...

This sounds great. I've been looking for some more mysteries that involve a faith aspect.

Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks for the tip. It sounds like these books would make a much better mini-series than Revelations!

LutheranChik said...

Songbird: Oddly enough -- I say "oddly" because usually I remember pet details before I remember people details in novels, LOL -- I can't remember what breed of dog she has, but I do remember something about her dog-sitting, and winding up with the dog. Which is kind of how I wound up with my dog.

LutheranChik said...

Christopher: So often in "holy sleuth" mysteries the protagonist's vocation is just a cutesy shtik, as it were, that has no real bearing on the plot, and that is not reflected in the character's inner life. I appreciate the way Spencer-Fleming integrates Claire's faith and her ministry into the entire story. Now, these books aren't exactly Dostoevsky, LOL, but they're several cuts above the usual "loveable priest-detective" mysteries.

Your post made me think of another detective series set in Amish country...the hero isn't particularly religious, but the plots include a lot about Amish/Mennonite theology and practice. I live in an area of my state with a large Amish population, and I thought that for the most part the stories were fairly accurate, if a bit romanticized, in depicting the Amish community. Can't remember the author though.

LutheranChik said...

Quotidiangrace: Um -- yup.;-)

I sincerely hope they never make a movie or TV minseries out of a Spencer-Fleming mystery...I'm sure Hollywood would completely butcher it.

Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

I like these mysteries, but I have to say that I get annoyed at how every book with a clergy protagonist, especially if it's a mystery, seemingly MUST involve some kind of angst over a forbidden love/lust.

LutheranChik said...

Dylan: I rather suspect that a lot of that comes from editors who think that the public has a craving for stories about misbehaving clergy.

I used to enjoy Kemmelman's (sp?) Rabbi Small mysteries...I learned a lot about Judaism, and there was no gratuitous naughtiness on the rebbe's part.;-)

Songbird said...

Do you remember which one had the dog? (I apologize for the dog obsession. You'd think the fact that it's a clergywoman would be enough for me!)

Kathryn said...

Yippeee....I'm badly in need of some light and silly reading. Just hope they are available here, as I've run out of Merrily Watkins books, but guess that the Spencer Fleming titles are probably not quite worth paying transatlantic shipping for?? Just ordered way too many books on amazon this week...

LutheranChik said...

My philosophy (which drives my mother crazy) is that books, music and earrings, LOL, are always worth it. I'll eat peanut butter and ramen noodles if I have to.

Have you tried Powell's? (Big used-book purveyor.) Do they ship across the pond?