When it comes to law and order in mysteries, the first thing I think of are police officers and private detectives. However, there are a number of professions that amateur sleuths claim as day jobs; from crafters to retirees to little old ladies in St. Mary Mead.
One group of people who are out there solving crime after crime is not a group that you would normally associate with murderers. It’s the clergy. Who would have thought that these God-fearing men and women would be so adept at solving crimes and ferreting out the evildoers? Ok, so maybe the evildoer part isn’t a surprise.
Terrie Farley Moran already posted about some of my favorites—G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown; the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters; and Sister Fidelma, the brainchild of Peter Tremayne. But there are more! So many more!
What I love about mysteries involving clerical sleuths is that they run the gamut from historical to modern day. There is something for everyone. Do you like ancient Ireland? I’ve got a crime-solving nun for you. Do you like modern day, rural New York? I know an Episcopalian priest who can’t seem to steer clear of murder.
For those who have never read a mystery of this type, here is a taste of what I consider must reads in the genre. For those who are already familiar with these gems, you can nod in appreciation as you read on.
Boris Akunin writes of Polina Andreevna Lisitsyna, also known as Sister Pelagia. She is a red-headed nun and teacher at the Zavolzhsk Diocesan School for Girls in Russia at the turn of the 20th century. Akunin offers up an interesting setting in addition to cleverly written characters. Spoiler alert, her knitting needles aren’t always used just for knitting.
Father Roger Dowling came from the brilliant mind of Ralph M. McInerny. This disillusioned priest thrives as the head of the congregation of St Hilary’s in Fox River, Illinois. He is sent there mostly because no one else wanted the job, but he makes the best of it. In his 50s and with a parish to run, he gets reacquainted with Phil Keegan, an old friend who’s now a police detective. Let the crime solving begin! (If you’re reading this and can’t figure out why you keep picturing Tom Bosley, it’s because Tom played Father Dowling in a television series from the late 1980s through 1991.)
Kate Gallison’s Mother Lavinia Grey is an Episcopal priest in New Jersey. These modern day mysteries follow Mother Vinnie as she works to keep the parishioners of St. Bede’s Episcopal Church safe, which occasionally involves stumbling over a dead body or investigating the thefts of stone cemetery angels.
Merrily Watkins is the parish priest of Lentwardine, Herefordshire, England. Author Phil Rickman makes sure these books offer a bit more than your average clerical mystery, as they frequently include hauntings. Readers will even be treated to an exorcism or two as Merrily investigates the goings-on in her small town.
Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson is the priest of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in the small Adirondack town of Millers Kill, New York. In these books, Clare isn’t just your average Episcopalian priest, she’s an ex-army helicopter pilot who often aids Russ Van Alstyne, the town’s police chief, with investigations. Readers are treated to suspenseful stories complete with danger, and a little bit of attraction between the two leads.
You don’t have to be religious to enjoy mysteries in which the sleuths are members of the clergy. These men and women may ultimately be working for a higher power, but upholding the laws and solving crime seems to be what they do best.
Kerry Hammond has been an avid mystery reader ever since she discovered Nancy Drew at the age of 8. She enjoys all types of stories, from thrillers to cozies to historical mysteries.
See all of Kerry Hammond’s posts on Criminal Element.