Lily Connor
(creator: Michelle Blake)

Michelle Blake

Lily Connor is a "tentmaker" (an ordained priest who works at a trade outside the church), and is the creation of Michelle Blake (c1955- ), a poet and writer, who also publishes under the name Michelle Blake Symons. She earned a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard University and at one time thought about becoming an Episcopalian priest herself. She teaches fiction writing in the English Department at Tufts University and lives near Boston with her author husband and two children.

The Tentmaker (1999)
Her first book, The Tentmaker, tells how Lily Connor takes over as interim pastor for a wealthy Boston parish and ends up by solving the complicated mystery behind the death of the previous rector. At first she is bewildered by the lack of welcome there, but, as her best friend (like her, brought up as a Catholic, but confirmed in the Episcopal Church while at college), who is now a monk, points out to her, "You're there for a reason, Lily. It's not clear to you yet what it is, and it may not be clear for a long time, maybe not until way after you leave, but eventually you'll see it. There is an order at work here."

Lily herself is a really interesting character: "At seminary, she had studied Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and her faith now contained elements from all of those religions. So she had ended up as an ordained Episcopal minister who worked for a non-profit women's teaching center teaching the acceptance of all religions, all beliefs, all people. Then, once in a while she stepped in and worked for the church as an interim priest." Lily has her problems (including her father's recent death, insecurity, drink, and loneliness) but as her friend the Bishop tells her: "I wish we had many more priests like you in this diocese."

Earth Has No Sorrow (2001)
In Earth Has No Sorrow, Lily Connor is back working at the Women's Center, where she gets involved with an ecumenical council whose purpose is to study anti-semitism in the church. Her friend Anna (who had been sent to Auschwitz as a child because her Roman Catholic family had hidden Jews away) suddenly disappears and Lily is led into what is for her a strange new world of anti-semitic hatred. As always, she emerges as a very real, feeling person, but none too sure of herself: "It was as if she'd thought and read and argued so much about religion that she'd lost the ability, or the willingness, to practice it". As she explains to a colleague, "I've never actually understood what it means, that Jesus died for our sins. What does that mean? I know about the goats and the sacrifices and all that, but I don't know how to translate that into anything useful for my life." She had "grown too smart to believe in anything any more".

An interesting character, who helps her rediscover some of her old faith, is Father McPherson, an unconventional Roman Catholic chaplain at the university who even suggests that she should assist him at the Easter vigil. "That's not legal, is it?" she says." An Anglican woman priest assisting at a Roman Catholic service?" "No," the priest replies, "but then neither is ... the communion open to all baptised Christians, or a lot of other things I do.... Eventually they'll figure out what I'm doing, and then we'll see. I look at it this way - my days are numbered, so I make each one of them count". Such religious references throughout are an essential part of Lily's story, and sometimes seem more realistic than some of the sinister human enemies she has to confront.

The Book of Light (2003)
The Book of Light sees Lily Connor as lively and interesting as ever. She's now working as a chaplain on the Tate campus, and has to remind herself that "sometimes the combination of nonchalance and cowboy boots confuses people". Her lover, Tom, the police photographer, has moved in to the apartment below her, and he is an encouragement to keep cutting down on the drink. But then she gets involved in a very strange mystery indeed, when the woman head of the religious department at the university, is sent photographs, purporting to be of a scroll containing Q (the hypothetical missing source possibly used by Matthew and Luke). This, Lily discovers, differs slightly from the accounts of Matthew or Luke, and would, of course, be of immense importance and untold value. This is all very promising, and while it stays a mystery, the plots works very well and certainly holds the interest. It is when the solution is revealed that it gets reminiscent of the Da Vinci Code and its imitators - and, inevitably, in the end raises more questions than it answers.

Lily herself remains warm and human throughout (as when, while preaching a sermon, she asks herself, "Did Jesus do or say any of this stuff? What am I preaching from? Then she thinks about the fine hairs just below Tom's navel. Color rushes to her cheeks. She takes a deep breath and scans the page of notes in front of her, desperate to find her place in the sermon." Wondering so much about the challenge presented by Q, she finds her own faith is developing: "I'm beginning to see the gospels in a new light ... maybe I'm beginning to believe they're true". Let's hope that there's a more likely plot in her next adventure - with a character like hers, there's really no need for over-the-top stories to retain the reader's interest.


There are interesting interviews with Michelle Blake on the J Books.com and Julia Spencer-Fleming sites.




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The Tentmaker cover
The Lily Connor books are particularly well designed and have really attractive and sophisticated dust jackets.
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