I discovered C.C. Benison‘s Father Christmas series in 2014, reading the three published books in the span of three months. Last year, however, I discovered that the next book in the series is indefinitely on hold.
Turning to Benison’s Jane Bee mysteries is a viable option, but in the meantime, I’ve collected a short list of other crime-solving clergy in fiction, some of which I’ve read and some which are new to me.
- The Innocence of Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton, fulfills the classic slot for this category as well as the short story slot. Given that I am working on both reading more classics and reading more short stories, this ought to be next on my reading list. Making it even easier, it’s available for free on Project Gutenberg in the U.S. Published in 1910, the stories follow Roman Catholic priest and amateur sleuth Father Brown in England. Be forewarned that Chesterton was also the author of several religious tomes and these stories feature religion more than most books on this list.
- The Skull Mantra, by Eliot Pattison, on the other hand, doesn’t quite fit this list. Our protagonist, Shan Tao Yun, is not a man of the cloth himself, despite being held in a Tibetan prison with Buddhist monks. However, the land of Tibet and the world of Buddhism is essential to the plot and I couldn’t help but include it. This is not an easy book to read at times – personally, I struggled with keeping the military hierarchy and Chinese bureaucracy straight in my head – but I can promise you it’s worth it. The Skull Mantra is highly recommended.
- A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters, has been on my “to read” list for a while. For someone who read and reread Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife’s Apprentice in my younger days, the story of Brother Cadfael of Shrewsbury Abbey seems right up my alley. The series (oh yes – did I mention this is the first of 20 books?) explores more than than just murder and mystery, but also the Wales of the 12th century history.
- Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, by Boris Akunin, features our first woman detective of this list, the titular Sister Pelagia, a Russian Orthodox nun. Taking place at the turn of the 20th century, she aids her bishop in his family affairs with some of her less ecclesiastical skills. If The Sound of Music‘s Maria turned to private detection instead of romance, I’m pretty sure this is what would’ve resulted. I’ve read the first book in this trilogy, and I look forward to reading the others.
- The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco, is more renowned for the author’s scrupulous historical research than the mystery. But what’s not to like about a 14th century Italian abbey where not all is as it appears? Translated from the Italian, Brother William is our hero, who must take on duties beyond his job description and discover the motivation behind serial murders at the monastery.
- The Novice’s Tale, by Margaret Frazer, is the first of more than a dozen mysteries taking place at an English convent in the 1400s. Our heroine Sister Frevisse must investigate the death of one of St. Frideswide’s patrons who has come to prevent her niece from taking her vows. Whether it’s the convent politics or those focus on women in the medieval age, I can’t wait to read this one.
I’m incredibly fond of this microgenre – the only thing that’s missing is some nonfiction! If anyone out there knows some true stories, hook me up!