Monday, September 28, 2015

Religious Themes in Crime Fiction




Margot's review last week of FRIDAY THE RABBI SLEPT LATE reminded me that there are  crime-solving religious folks in the literature. The Pope's visit also brought this home.

Who are your favorite religious sleuths? Or what novel with such themes do you especially like?

28 comments:

George said...

Father Brown.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Julia Spencer-Fleming, Rev. Clare Fergusson


Jeff M.

Margot Kinberg said...

Thanks very much for the mention, Patti. There are so many religious/clergy sleuths, from Father Brown to today. They really add an interesting dimension to a crime novel.

Fred Zackel said...

Mike Hammer: The Hammer of God. Mike does what God would do if God carried a gun. A bit over the top for me, though.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Good ones. I am trying to remember the series where the husband was a minister and his wife solved crimes.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Patti, I'm not sure if I have read any books with "religious themes in crime fiction" but I did enjoy THE CLOWNS OF GOD by Morris West as well as historical fiction by Frank G. Slaughter and Lloyd D. Douglas.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, I do remember reading LLoyd Douglas as a girl. And the others as well. Truly forgotten names.

Barry Ergang said...

Hal White's The Mysteries of Reverend Dean contains six very entertaining impossible crime stories solved by a retired clergyman. See http://www.halwhite.com/index.php

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

There is always a religious undercurrent in Stuart Kaminsky's Abe Lieberman books - his partner calls him "Rabbi" - though Lieberman professes not to believe. His wife is President of the Temple and he is frequently drawn into disputes there.

Of course there is Faye Kellerman's Peter & Rina Decker series as well.

Jeff M.

Deb said...

Susan Hill's Simon Serailler mysteries are very interesting. Simon is a non-believer, but his mother and his sister are very active in the church (Anglican). I enjoy reading these books more for the big Mysteries (how we live, love, die, and how we relate to others) than the actual mysteries (which are often rather obvious and easy to solve).

Al Tucher said...

You just reminded me of the Reverend Randollph series by Charles Merrill Smith. They came out in the 70s and 80s. I remember enjoying them, but I haven't gone back to them since they were new.

John said...

ORDINARY GRACE is the only contemporary crime novel I have read that touches on religious themes and has not annoyed me with patronizing preaching.

I'm starting to read the Sidney Chambers stories by James Runcie after thoroughly enjoying the TV series "Grantchester". So far the TV series is winning out.

I've also read Andrew Greeley's books with his bishop sleuth and was impressed only with HAPPY ARE THOSE WHO MOURN. That book instructed me on canonical laws I never knew existed. And Blackie Ryan stuck me as a very modern priest. But other books in the series tended to be excuses for Greeley to mount his soap box about one thing or another and not always about religion. Those types of books turn me off.

Faith to me is the ultimate mystery. There are very few writers I have read who have managed to convey that mystery in their fiction. When I do encounter it I am in awe. Literally. Happens all too rarely. I imagine this is the case of true faith in the real world as well.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I have read a few of Father Greeley's books, but they were his earlier ones before he started a mystery series. I guess you could say there is a certain amount of religion in some of Tony Hillerman's Jim Chee books.

I;'m not sure why it is but I rarely enjoy British television series set in the 1950's. I really disliked the recent Father Brown series and Grantchester, while OK, left me cold. I was sorry to read that they moved Tommy & Tuppence from the 1920's where they belong to the 1950's in the new series, though I suppose we'll watch it in time.

Jeff M.

Mathew Paust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mathew Paust said...

Hillerman, yes. His depiction of the Navajo Origin Myth and the Diné sacred rituals was deemed so accurate his Chee/Leaphorn novels were (perhaps still are) used in reservation schools.

There's a fairly consistent mystical element in James Lee Burke's novels. While his protagonist, Dave Robicheaux, is a sworn police officer he's either a subconscious mystic or has the metaphysical sensitivity of a psychic. He often converses with his dead father. His wife in the later novels is a former nun. He interacts with ghosts in In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. Burke's own religious feelings (presumably) are prominent in his most recent story collection Jesus Out to Sea.

Graham Powell said...

There was a PD James mystery that had a religious conversion as its central element. I believe it was A Taste For Death but I'm not sure.

Jerry House said...

Patti, the series with the husband as the minister and the wife as the crime-solver could have been the Faith Fairchild series by Katherine Hall Page. The series began with THE BODY IN THE BELFREY (1990); the 22nd book in the series, THE BODY IN THE BIRCHES, was published this year.

sandra seamans said...

There's a whole website dedicated to Clergy Detectives if you're looking for one in particular. Here's the link http://detecs.org/

Gerard said...

There are plenty of Christian-themed thrillers and mysteries but I've never read one. That is different from a religious character.

Crider's collaboration with Clyde Wilson has the main character guided by faith and his belief in right and wrong has a religious grounding.

Isn't there a mystery series with monks? OR is that just a PBS series?

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Yes, Brother Cadfael, a former Crusader. The series was by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter).

Jeff M.

Mathew Paust said...

Some years back I knew a country sheriff's deputy who was also a minister, and had a weekly radio show. I asked him once if he ever considered the possibility of a conflict with his Christian faith if it came to a situation where he might have to use his service revolver. He was a good-natured fellow, and suspected I might be baiting him a tad, and this is how he answered: "Imagine you've just robbed a 7-Eleven and you're running from the store. You're maybe 10 steps away from a woods where you have a pretty good chance of getting away. I arrive on the scene just as you're coming out of the door. You start toward the woods, running as hard as you can. Now consider this. Which is more likely to make you stop and surrender, if you hear me shout STOP OR I'LL SHOOT or STOP IN THE NAME OF JESUS?" I laughed, and so did he. I could imagine hearing the hammer click back as I was deciding what to do.

Might be able to work a scene like this into a fiction piece one day. This was a good 25 years ago. I just now remembered it.

Anonymous said...


The number of medieval mysteries that feature monks, priests or nuns as main characters are legion. Authors:

Michael Jecks
Paul Doherty
Margaret Frazer
Peter Tremayne
many, many more

Bernadette said...

I love reading books with religious themes despite - or perhaps because of - my atheism - I suspect it has to do with being raised in a fairly religious setting (Catholic school, mandatory attendance at Church until I was old enough to say not and get listened to) - I like seeing the way the issues are explored and, sometimes, being forced to confront my own biases as well as being genuinely curious about the practices of different religions

I read an interesting book earlier this year by Mette Ivie Harrison called The Bishop's Wife - it is set within the Mormon community and does a decent job of depicting that setting without prostletyzing

I rather like Phil Rickman's series featuring an anglican woman priest (Merrily Watkins) and a few years ago read a good book featuring a young Jewish rabbi by Josheph Telushkin (can't remember the name - something like the Unorthodox Murder of Rabbi something)

pattinase (abbott) said...

I feel my interest mirrors yours in many ways, Bernadette. CALVARY was a movie that spoke to me greatly.

Cap'n Bob said...

I'm sure I've read a few along the way but I avoid them nowadays.

Chad Eagleton said...

I'll second Phil Rickman and Paul Doherty and Brother Cadfael series. And I absolutely dug William of Baskerville in Eco's The Name of the Rose (also hoped for more with him). Stepping away from Christianity, I'm very, very fond of Eliot Pattison's Inspector Shan series and also John Burdett's Sonchai Jitpleecheep series--two different strains of Buddhism inform both works.

Casual Debris said...

I immediately thought of Eco's The Name of the Rose, a favourite of mine. The first Matthew Scudder novel by Lawrence Block, The Sins of the Father, deals with clergy & family & is another good read.

Frank

Charles Gramlich said...

Does "In the Name of the Rose" count?